The wait for public housing in Hong Kong is at its highest in almost two decades, with families on hold for more than five years to be allocated a flat, according to official statistics released on Friday. Families waited an average of five years and one month to be given a public housing flat as of the end of March, according to Housing Authority statistics. Elderly applicants waited for an average of two years and nine months. The statistics, released quarterly, were calculated based on data from those who received a flat in the past 12 months and is used as a reference for current applicants. Out of 272,300 applicants, around half (56 per cent) were families, and the rest were single, non-elderly applicants. The last time there was such a long wait for public flats was in 2000 when low-income families had to wait five years and three months. The authority’s subsidised housing committee chairman Stanley Wong Yuen-fai said that they expected the average waiting time would continue to worsen in the next five years. “We cannot really predict the extent of the deterioration, but we know that in the next five years the annual production of public rental flats is not enough to meet the increase in the number of applications,” Wong said. New social housing in Hong Kong will be ‘modern, airy and all colours of the rainbow’ The longest wait time was six and a half years in 1998 when Tung Chee-hwa was executive. The shortest wait for families was one year and nine months in 2005, 2007 and 2009 when the government stopped building subsidised flats for sale, and only built rental housing. Since the 1997 handover, authorities have promised to shorten the waiting time for families to three years. The new data comes as the government struggles to find land to build enough housing in one of the world’s most unaffordable cities to buy and rent property. Hong Kong’s housing shortage has forced more than 210,000 residents to pay high rents to live in subdivided flats where cramped spaces and squalid conditions are common. The government has admitted it will not meet its target of building 280,000 public flats by 2027, leading to an expected shortfall of 43,000. Is Fanling golf club getting ‘picked on’ as Hong Kong debates ways to ease housing shortage? Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has pledged to provide more affordable flats, with her government ramping up efforts to seek new sources of land. A public consultation on 18 options to boost land supply is under way. Lawmaker Wilson Or Chong-shing, who is also a subsidised housing committee member, expressed concerns that the waiting time would lengthen to even seven or eight years because of the lack of land. Anthony Chiu Kwok-wai, executive director of the Federation of Public Housing Estates, echoed Or’s concerns. Chiu said the ratio of public and private flats produced in the next five years would be around half each, when it should be 60 per cent for public flats, and 40 per cent for private flats. Forcibly taking back privately leased plots and farmland for housing ‘would backfire’, Carrie Lam says “The government should consider allocating several plots of land reserved for private flats to be used to build more public rental housing instead,” he said. The Housing Authority, in response to media inquiries, said that public housing supply has already increased in recent years and that they would “continue to work hard in the coming years” to ramp up supply.