My Take

Arrogance and incompetence at Hong Kong's Urban Renewal Authority in U-turn decision

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 November, 2015, 1:35am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 November, 2015, 1:35am

The Urban Renewal Authority has completely bungled its decision to make a U-turn on who can buy subsidised flats at its developments.

Its management failed to inform its own board about the change in the eligibility of unmarried people to buy its flats, leaving board members to read the newspapers to find out. That's just arrogance.

The management also failed to explain why it suddenly changed its long-standing rule on eligibility, giving, instead, implausible and ridiculous explanations. That's incompetence. The URA may yet have to U-turn on its latest U-turn.

READ MORE: Single people can buy subsidised flats in Hong Kong after sudden policy U-turn by Urban Renewal Authority

The shock change means singles earning as much as HK$60,000 a month with assets worth less than HK$3 million can buy flats at De Novo, a subsidised housing project in Kai Tak.

Previously, those financial limits applied only to household incomes and assets. Someone making more than HK$50,000 a month belongs to the top 10 per cent of earners in Hong Kong.

Why do we need to help such people buy subsidised flats? The URA's supply of subsidised flats is small. Allowing higher-asset individuals to compete with lower-income families to buy subsidised flats is just unfair.

One explanation offered by the URA is that there have been complaints that the restriction against singles violates the Family Status Discrimination Ordinance. But the Equal Opportunities Commission has yet to take a stance.

READ MORE: Hong Kong urban renewal authority director claims board learned of management’s policy U-turn just like public

Of all the public bodies in Hong Kong, the Urban Renewal Authority possibly has the greatest direct impact on people's lives. A charitable interpretation of its main function is to help renew old districts and rundown neighbourhoods.

A more cynical view is that it enables big developers to take over old neighbourhoods and evict elderly owners from their homes in the most cost-effective way possible through the URA's close ties with the Planning Department.

Its goal is to maximise profits, which usually means allowing partner-developers to overbuild. How over-density developments enhance the quality of life of residents, something explicitly stated in the URA's mandate, is not explained.

The URA is not the most trusted of public bodies in Hong Kong. Its latest screw-up just adds to the distrust.