On housing, public interest must come first

The queue for subsidised rental homes is getting ever longer yet the government, instead of resuming idle land, is colluding with developers by talking up the imaginary benefits of public-private partnership to build flats 

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 May, 2018, 4:39am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 May, 2018, 4:39am

The average waiting time for a public rental flat is now five years and one month, the longest in almost two decades. This breaches the government’s own commitment of maintaining the queue at no more than three years. Out of 272,300 applicants, 56 per cent are families and the rest are single, non-elderly applicants.

The last time there was such a long wait for public flats was in 2000, when it was five years and three months. But, instead of promising to shorten the wait, the Housing Authority’s subsidised housing committee chairman, Stanley Wong Yuen-fai, said the average waiting time was expected to worsen over the next five years.

Opinion: Hong Kong doesn’t need more land to solve its housing problems

The three-year benchmark? Forget about it, this government doesn’t care any more. Now, isn’t it interesting that at a time of acute public housing shortage, the usual suspects are all coming out to promote public-private partnership (PPP) to build more flats?

The Hong Kong Policy Research Institute, led by former Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, has recommended allowing private rural landlords, from developers to small plot owners, to gang up and launch their own development proposals for government approval. This is the reverse of how it’s currently done in the New Territories.

Meanwhile, Heung Yee Kuk chairman Kenneth Lau Ip-keung has proposed a similar PPP model for rural land not earmarked for officially sanctioned small houses. PPP is, of course, among suggestions made by the government-appointed Task Force on Land Supply.

Interesting timing, if you ask me. In an illuminating statement last week, Victor Li Tzar-kuoi, of Cheung Kong Infrastructure, admitted PPP would benefit developers and landlords but could be difficult for the public to accept in this political climate.

He is right, of course. More than 210,000 residents currently live in hellholes called “subdivided flats” while rural landowners big and small are hoarding land, sometimes for decades.

What would a responsible government do in such circumstances? Let PPP be damned.

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The government has both legitimate and legal powers to take back such land in the public interest. What can be more justified on such grounds than the need to build desperately needed public housing?

It is fully supported by the Lands Resumption Ordinance and Article 105 of the Basic Law. But this government is trying to “balance” the profit interests of landowners with the desperate needs of the poor.

Come on, Carrie Lam, show us you can make a difference.