Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam faces questions from all sides despite apology for ‘800,000 flats’ comment
Pan-dems and pro-establishment figures alike want government to provide more details on housing strategy
Hong Kong’s major political parties, including those in the pro-establishment camp, have demanded that the government further explain its housing policy, despite an earlier apology from the city’s top official for suggesting that 800,000 public rental flats would be enough to meet the needs of low-income families.
An array of questions was raised by various political figures on Wednesday morning despite the attempts by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and housing chief Frank Chan Fan to ease public concerns over the past week.
Lam’s 800,000 flat suggestion, made in an interview published last week in a Chinese-language newspaper, sparked concern over whether the government would soon stop building public rental flats, in a deviation from what had been laid down as the city’s long-term housing strategy.
On Tuesday, Lam apologised for the “unnecessary anxiety caused” and said that her comment represented one line from an interview that lasted for an hour. She also clarified that the figure of 800,000 public rental flats was neither a target nor a ceiling.
In a radio show on Wednesday morning, Democratic Party lawmaker Andrew Wan Siu-kin, who sits on the Housing Authority’s subsidised housing committee, said: “I think Lam was not making a thorough apology … she was simply saying she did not express her idea clearly. She did not say her concept was not good and [that she had] decided to withdraw her remarks.”
Pro-establishment lawmaker Alice Mak Mei-kuen from the Federation of Trade Unions raised a similar question: “Did she mean her expression was inappropriate? Or did she apologise for her [housing] concept not being a proper one?”
Wilson Or Chong-shing, a pro-government lawmaker from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said he was glad to see the chief executive apologise and attempt to clarify matters. But he called for further explanation of Lam’s housing policy.
“[The government] should explain more to the public on the rationale behind the figure 800,000, [and] also whether such a figure still exists,” said Or, who sits on the same committee as Wan.
He said the government should also support people lining up for public rental flats and give them hope. There are currently about 280,000 people on the waiting list, with an average wait time of 4.7 years.
Lam had mentioned in her maiden policy address that the government would focus on home ownership and regularise the Green Form Subsidised Home Ownership Scheme, which sells subsidised units to existing tenants of public rental housing or those are who are eligible for it.
“What is the ratio of public rental flats to those under the Green Form Subsidised Home Ownership Scheme?” Or asked.
He said the Transport and Housing Bureau and the Housing Authority should provide more details in the future.
The legislator also suggested that the government consider allowing public flat tenants to purchase their existing flats, in a fashion akin to the Tenants Purchase Scheme launched in 1998 but terminated after 2005.
Wan urged the government to release sales details for the Green Form Subsidised Home Ownership Scheme as soon as possible.