My Take

Housing policy will make or break new administration

Next leader must confront vested interests from rural strongmen to big developers and entrenched ideologues like environmentalists

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 February, 2017, 12:52am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 February, 2017, 12:52am

When asked about the long queue for a public housing unit yesterday, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying commented sagely that the only way to address the problem was to increase land supply. The cruel irony could not have escaped him.

Here is a sunset government that has banked on its legacy for having confronted head-on the city’s long-standing housing shortage. Yet, the latest figures from the Housing Authority show that the waiting time – at four years and eight months – for public housing has jumped by a full year in the past 12 months, making it the biggest annual leap since Leung took office in 2012. It’s the first time in 13 years that families have had to wait more than four years for a unit.

Waiting time to get into Hong Kong public housing shoots up a full year over past 12 months

To be fair, this is likely to be temporary, as more units come online towards the end of this decade. This is despite an expected shortfall of 44,000 public flats on the original target of 280,000 units in the next 10 years. Still, the news is a black mark for Leung.

For the next chief executive, the work is cut out. His successor must continue the existing government programme of looking for new land supply, especially in light of the shortfall.

Both John Tsang Chun-wah and Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor have only offered vague plans to increase housing in their campaign platforms for chief executive. Lam promises to form a task force of professionals and stakeholders to discuss ways to boost housing supply, presumably with the aim of reaching some kind of consensus. She also wants to create a new class of subsidised housing for middle-class families and first-time homebuyers.

Public housing policy shake-up could slash wait times, but there’s bad news for existing tenants

Meanwhile, Tsang has caught everyone’s attention – or ridicule – when he declared the goal of housing 60 per cent of the population in public flats. Considering the current figure stands at 45.6 per cent, many critics consider it widely unrealistic.

These two likely contenders for the top job will have to spell out exactly how they aim to meet the current housing targets, which are already ambitious. Will they be willing to confront vested interests from rural strongmen to big developers and entrenched ideologues such as environmentalists and anti-reclamation activists?

A good housing policy alone will not assure success for the next administration. But a bad one is a guarantee of failure.