Cross-border housing plan could work

Cheng Yiu-tong has suggested leasing land in Huizhou, Zhuhai and Zhongshan for public housing as a way of both increasing supply and encouraging more Hong Kong people to live across the border. The plan won’t work in the way he has suggested, but with some tweaking it is not out of the question

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 September, 2018, 5:44pm
UPDATED : Friday, 07 September, 2018, 10:28pm

Cheng Yiu-tong has an interesting if somewhat dangerous proposal to increase housing supply while boosting integration with the “Greater Bay Area”.

It’s not going to work as the local delegate to the National People’s Congress has suggested it, but it doesn’t mean it’s out of the question with some tweaking.

Cheng wants to encourage more Hong Kong people to live across the border by leasing land in Huizhou, Zhuhai and Zhongshan for public housing, with a target tenancy of 500,000 to 600,000 people.

Let me point out the scheme’s worst features, which pretty much make it dead on arrival. Why so many tenants when Hong Kong’s public housing queue, though the longest in 20 years, only has 270,000 people?

One reason why it’s so long is because successful applicants often prefer to wait for better locations instead of accepting “out of the way” estates in the New Territories. And you think they would accept housing in Huizhou, Zhuhai and Zhongshan?

MTR proposes ‘Hong Kong Town’ on mainland to ease housing crisis

The proposal also seems to cater to mainlanders aspiring to live in Hong Kong. Otherwise, why would Cheng suggest anyone who lives in the Hong Kong-leased areas could earn the right of abode after seven years. This is not only beyond absurd, but dangerous, as it would vastly increase the number of mainland migrants beyond the current daily quota of 150. Maybe that’s his intention. If so, we ought to be told.

Any such Hong Kong-administered zones, subject to mainland approval, must only cater to Hong Kong people. That should be a policy principle. And the only way to entice more people to live across the border – call it reverse colonisation – is to offer superior housing and transport, along with comparable welfare, health care and education as those available in Hong Kong. Presumably, those with jobs in Hong Kong would pay taxes at the local rates, rather than the mainland’s.

As thousands of young children have been, for years, crossing the border every day to attend schools in Hong Kong, adults should have no problems travelling similar distances. The Hong Kong government can offer transport subsidies.

But building public housing-quality estates wouldn’t cut it. They would have to offer far higher quality – at least comparable to flats under the Home Ownership Scheme or even those in the private market – to make it worthwhile. They could be for subsidised rent or discounted sale.

Whatever the cost of such a scheme, it would be cheaper than the government’s favoured reclamation option.