Chief executive John Lee Ka-chiu at the question-and-answer session at the Legislative Council in Tamar this month. Photo: SCMP/Yik Yeung-man
by SCMP Editorial
by SCMP Editorial

No instant answer to the housing problem

  • As Chief Executive John Lee concedes, his Light Public Housing blueprint is only a starting point. It will take more than quick fixes to turn affordable housing into a reality

It says something when a “no frill” version of subsidised flats has become a quick fix for the housing crunch in Hong Kong. The so-called Light Public Housing, the latest brainchild of Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu, was certainly not conceived as an alternative like a “light” meal or a soft drink for the health conscious.

If anything, it underlines the harsh reality that there is no overnight solution to the housing conundrum.

Unlike some “light” brands which are nothing more than marketing tricks, the government said the quasi transitional flats are a necessary step to ease the short-term shortage. It was referring to the estimate that most of the “traditional” flats in the production plan would not be ready until after five years. The new scheme is therefore a stopgap measure to meet short-term housing needs.

Upon completion, the 30,000 prefabricated living spaces on five to six sites can reduce the notoriously long waiting time, from currently six years to 4½ years by 2026, according to the government.

Hong Kong’s Light Be aims to unlock potential in tenants awaiting public housing

Welcoming as it seems, the initiative has also fuelled criticism that it is just a numbers game. Critics say it is seemingly just a copy of similar transitional housing projects run by non-government organisations. Those allocated with an interim unit can continue to queue for a standard one.

With still tens of thousands of applicants in the queue, the impact is arguably limited. But it is still better than staying in a substandard and overpriced subdivided or rooftop unit in rundown blocks. As the sayings go, every little helps. The earlier, the better.

The same goes for another undertaking by Lee to enable applicants to move into traditional rental flats before the entire estate is commissioned.

30,000 bigger temporary flats in Hong Kong promised to ease housing problems

The government has sought to assure that it has already identified more than enough land for public and private housing in the next decade. Whether they are affordable is another matter, though. There are no instant solutions to the housing woes.

Lee’s predecessors, to their credit, have also implemented different initiatives to enhance supply and stabilise property prices. But the results still leave much to be desired. As Lee conceded, his first policy blueprint is only the starting point. It would take more than quick fixes to turn affordable housing into a reality.