Rent concessions and travel subsidies are two ways of encouraging people to move to less popular areas in the New Territories that will in turn ease a long wait for public rental flats, a leading housing adviser has suggested.
Stanley Wong Yuen-fai said he floated the ideas in an attempt to stimulate thinking on how to deal with the ever-growing list of flat applicants - at a 20-year high of 228,400 by the end of March.
"It is hard for our construction work to catch up with the growth in applicant numbers. We are facing a severe challenge in upholding our three-year pledge," Wong, chairman of the Housing Authority's subsidised housing committee, said yesterday.
He was referring to the government's promise of being able to offer an applicant the first unit within three years of application. The average waiting time is now 2.7 years, and officials are concerned the growing list may stretch out the wait further.
Wong pointed to a widespread tendency to reject the initial offer - which was highly likely to be a home in the New Territories - in the hope of striking it lucky with an urban flat later.
This mentality lengthens the waiting time and puts pressure on the three-year pledge.
For example, residential estates that are not near an MTR station or downtown Hong Kong, such as Tung Chung, see higher vacancy rates. Applicants would rather continue to live in an overcrowded family home to save travelling time and costs than to move to a more spacious flat in the New Territories. Lowering rents in the New Territories to reflect the market difference between urban and remote areas would help, Wong said.
The monthly rent of public housing is HK$64.40 per square metre in urban areas, HK$62.20 in Sha Tin and Kwai Chung, and HK$42.90 in Tuen Mun.
The unwillingness to live in new satellite towns had also frustrated the authority's efforts to redevelop aged housing estates in urban centres, because affected residents would expect to be relocated to nearby areas, Wong said.
"It is an inevitable development that our new housing estates will continue to spread across the New Territories," he said. "The authority needs new thinking in how to encourage people to move there." Rent concessions might lure those people to move farther away on a temporary basis instead of demanding homes nearby.
Wong also suggested conducting an inter-departmental study on whether the government could hand out regular travel subsidies to New Territories tenants, instead of requiring them to claim reimbursements.
Secretary for Transport and Housing Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung said the authority would consider the views and housing director Duncan Pescod would respond to the ideas at a meeting next month.