How Hong Kong can untangle the Gordian knot of public housing
- The pandemic is an obvious scapegoat, but the government’s failure to keep the waiting time for a public housing flat down to three years predates the arrival of Covid-19
- Instead, we should look to the many rounds of consultations, redesigns and developer disputes to understand why waiting times have increased in recent years
This involves around 2,300 flats, constituting just 11 per cent of all delayed flats – far less than the 87 per cent “affected by the inclement weather” and the 66 per cent “affected by unforeseen geological conditions”. This proves that the pandemic is merely a scapegoat.
As the saying goes, “the tree falls not at the first stroke”. The Housing Authority’s pledge of a three-year public rental housing waiting time was already broken in 2015. Since then, the waiting time has almost doubled. This dire situation can be attributed to constant delays. An overview of the construction programmes of the last eight years shows that on average, 15 per cent of public housing projects were delayed each year.
The known delays are just the tip of the iceberg. Currently, the government only discloses information about projects to be completed in the first five years of the coming 10-year period. Delays already occur annually within those five years, even when the construction earmarked accounts for only one-third of the total production of the 10-year period. It can be safely assumed, therefore, that the problem will be even more severe in the second five-year period.
Clearly, there is a lack of coordination between government departments. Issues must be addressed separately by representatives of different district council departments, and it takes at least two years to revise each design. All this has delayed the project by over seven years, with the whole development taking more than 16 years.
In Kwai Chung, three public rental housing projects are stuck in limbo. A proposal to build two estates on Tai Wo Hau Road would provide 787 flats, and rezoning commenced in 2014, but little else has been done. Similarly, a project on San Kwai Street would supply 700 flats and the rezoning procedure began in 2018, but no progress has been made.
The third project, Kwai On Factory Estate, is one of four factory estates earmarked for conversion into public housing by the Housing Authority. While the rezoning procedure for the other three estates began in 2021, there is no clear schedule for Kwai On Factory Estate.
All these projects have been delayed by a judicial review of a private redevelopment project in the district. An outline zoning plan cannot be approved before the disputes are settled, inflicting collateral damage on public housing development in Kwai Chung.
Finally, in Tuen Mun, proposals for both private and public housing on San Hing Road face obstacles. A public rental housing project providing 8,000 flats was initiated in 2014. The development site includes an area covered by two private residential developments, an arrangement that was previously approved. However, the government then announced that another feasibility study was needed, delaying construction.
Meanwhile, the private developers wished to increase development density, and, after having their request rejected, called for a judicial review. As a result, both private and public residential developments came to a halt. It was not until 2021 that the feasibility study for the public housing development was completed, while the application for a judicial review by the private developers was dismissed. Even so, there is no guarantee that the disputes are over.
To help these efforts, we propose three viable approaches. First, appoint a project manager for each housing project to supervise the progress of various departments, streamline the public consultation process, and keep the public regularly updated via a one-stop platform. Second, pass legislative proposals to streamline development-related statutory processes as soon as possible. Third, harness market forces to facilitate land and housing supply and foster public-private partnership.
Ryan Ip is head of land and housing research, and Calvin Au is assistant researcher, at Our Hong Kong Foundation