Hong Kong housing

Task force lists tough ideas to solve Hong Kong housing crunch

City’s leader Carrie Lam says subsidised flats will cater to young families

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 September, 2017, 3:38pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 September, 2017, 11:44pm

A task force set up to find ways of boosting land supply to solve Hong Kong’s housing crisis listed controversial solutions at its ­inaugural meeting on Wednesday, while the city’s leader warned that tough choices would have to be made to lift people out of ­“appalling” living conditions.

The 30-member task force on land supply came up with a shortlist of 12 “best ways” to either ­better utilise existing land or find new sources, including developing the fringes of protected country parks, using land reserves of private developers and reclamation outside Victoria Harbour.

At a forum ahead of the meeting of the task force, which she first proposed setting up in her election manifesto, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor put the focus squarely on housing.

She said she counted herself as “an exception” from other policymakers because she truly understood the plight of those forced to live in “appalling conditions”, such as tenants of subdivided flats.

“I come from a grass-roots family and did my homework on a bunk bed when I was a student,” Lam said.

She put forward several questions for the task force: “Ask society, when we have thousands of children living in [appalling conditions], can we really not undertake some reclamation outside of Victoria Harbour?

“Can we really not explore using some of the margins of country parks? Can we not ­enhance our efforts in resuming land and clearing some of the cottage areas in the rural New Territories to provide decent housing? These are questions that we all must answer.”

The task force met against a backdrop of soaring property prices and intense pressure on Lam’s government to ease the housing crunch. It has its work cut out to find enough land to meet the official target of building 460,000 flats by 2027.

The government has ­conceded it will fall short of its ­target to build 280,000 public rental flats by 44,000.

Housing Authority figures at the end of June showed that 277,800 applicants have to wait an average of four years and eight months for public housing.

Lam, who also attended the task force meeting on Wednesday, said she hoped the expert panel would help engage the community to reach a consensus on the ­proposed solutions, as controversial as some of them might be.

Task force chairman Stanley Wong Yuen-fai said the experts would review the possible solutions, which included examining the scale of the proposals, listing their pros and cons and looking at the technical feasibility before presenting them to the public.

“We are looking at a shortfall of at least 1,200 hectares of land to meet our future supply and ­demand [in 2030 and beyond], and this is not taking into account extra land needed to improve the living space of each individual,” Wong said.

Lam also revealed more details about affordable, “no-frills” ­subsidised homes to be put up for sale under a new government scheme targeting first-time buyers who have been squeezed out of the red-hot property market.

She said the “Starter Homes” scheme to help first-time home buyers get on the property ladder would cater to young families who earned too little to afford private housing but too much to qualify for renting public flats.

Those who had previously purchased a government-subsidised flat or owned any other property would not be eligible for the scheme, Lam said.

“Since [the scheme] is only providing a ‘starter home’, the size, design and interior decoration will be rather simple,” Lam said.

“I am confident that the ­families who buy these homes will eventually be able to afford a ­private sector flat with their ­sustained efforts.”

The starter homes would not use land earmarked for public housing, a sector already struggling to deal with a backlog of ­applicants, Lam said.

Why is Hong Kong housing so expensive?

Hong Kong has been ranked the world’s least affordable city in which to buy a home for the seventh year running in the Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey.