The wait for Hong Kong public housing is at its longest in 18 years, with families on hold for more than five years and three months to be allocated a flat, according to official statistics released on Friday. The queuing time for such flats increased by two months as of the end of June, according to Housing Authority statistics. Single elderly applicants waited an average of two years and 10 months. Released quarterly, the statistics are based on data from those who received a flat in the past 12 months. The figures are used as a reference for current applicants. Out of 268,500 applicants, more than half – 56 per cent – were families. The rest were single non-elderly applicants. Stanley Wong Yuen-fai, chairman of the authority’s subsidised housing committee, said the government could consider increasing the proportion of public flats from the current 60 per cent of 460,000 flats officials pledged to build in the next decade. “However, the government needs to be careful how that would affect the private property market and rental rates if more land is being allocated to build public flats,” Wong added. Lawmakers expressed dismay with the waiting time, while a concern group worried it would keep growing. Committee member and lawmaker Andrew Wan Siu-kin said he was “disappointed” and “appalled” by the rapid increase of the average queuing time. “The government cannot avoid its responsibility of finding sufficient land for public housing projects, instead of pushing out a few lots every time it’s under public pressure,” Wan said. The government cannot avoid its responsibility of finding sufficient land for public housing projects Andrew Wan Siu-kin, lawmaker The latest data matched that of 2000, when low-income families had to wait the same amount of time. The longest waiting time on record was six and ½ years in 1998, when Tung Chee-hwa led the city. Since the 1997 handover from British to Chinese rule, authorities have promised to shorten the waiting time for families to three years. The new data came 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 live in subdivided flats where cramped spaces and squalid conditions are common. Officials have admitted they will not meet their target of building 280,000 public flats by 2027, leading to an expected shortfall of 43,000. Committee member Wilson Or Chong-shing, who is also a lawmaker, urged officials to build more transitional housing on vacant government land and turn private residential sites into land for public housing. “It’s particularly worrying to see the average queuing time for public housing flats increase to 5.3 years,” Or said. “Many of the applicants are low-income and now living in unfavourable conditions, dealing with the threat of expensive rent and forced relocation.” Or called on the government to impose rental control measures to relieve the burden on low-income tenants of private flats, such as providing rental subsidies for people who have been waiting for a public housing flat for more than three years. The Federation of Public Housing Estates, an alliance of 11 community associations representing public housing residents, said the average queuing time was likely to exceed six years in the coming months. In the backyard of Hong Kong’s wealthy, hidden pockets of squalid housing Echoing Or’s suggestion on transitional housing, the federation said in a statement: “We call on the whole of society and stakeholders in different districts to support the government’s search for land for developing public housing.” Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has pledged to provide more affordable flats, with her administration ramping up efforts to seek new sources of land. Although a public consultation on 18 options to boost land supply is under way, Lam has described large-scale reclamation as “unavoidable” for the city in the long term.