Hong Kong housing

‘How can she now say she represents us?’: Hong Kong’s poorly housed reject city leader Carrie Lam using their plight to back controversial land plans

Representative tells forum chief executive’s comments dismayed her group, decrying ‘land policy that severely favours the rich’

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 March, 2018, 7:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2018, 5:31pm

People living in Hong Kong’s cubicle flats lashed out at the city’s leader on Sunday, a day after she tried to use people’s poor living conditions to justify controversial land supply measures such as large-scale reclamation. 

Their angry remarks at a public forum on Sunday came after Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor urged the public and environmentalists to “be the voices” of children living in poor conditions, instead of being the voices for the harbour.

“We are very angry [about Lam’s comment],” Yau Tze-wei, a member of the Kwai Chung Subdivided Flat Residents Alliance, said. “To us [her comment] is worse than profanity. We have previously asked her to meet us in person but she rejected it. How can she now say she represents us?

“Hong Kong’s housing crisis is not caused by a shortage of land, but by a land policy that severely favours the rich.”

The forum came ahead of a five-month consultation, set to begin in the middle of next month and spearheaded by the government-appointed Task Force on Land Supply. The consultation will include a list of land supply measures, and members of the public will decide which ones to prioritise.

Hong Kong’s housing crisis is not caused by a shortage of land, but by a land policy that severely favours the rich
Yau Tze-wei, Kwai Chung Subdivided Flat Residents Alliance

Some measures are highly controversial, such as developing the city’s scenic and ecologically important country parks and land reclamation from the harbour or the sea.

The government’s long-term development blueprint estimates that Hong Kong is still short 1,200 hectares for housing and economic development, taking into account all currently planned projects. 

The city is the world’s most expensive market to buy a home, according to many studies and since 2003 its private home prices have jumped by 445 per cent.

At the forum, former lawmaker for the architectural, surveying, planning and landscape sector Edward Yiu Chung-yim said a shortage of land did not cause the city’s housing problems, but uncontrolled housing speculation, notably by cash-rich mainland Chinese people. 

Citing government figures, Yiu said housing supply increased by 11 per cent in the past decade, compared with a population increase of 7 per cent in the same period. He said that meant there was no imbalance in supply and demand. But during the same period, he said, private property prices have doubled, but salaries only increased by 50 per cent, falling far behind.

He cited multiple studies which showed low interest rates and foreign investment had contributed to property market inflation globally.

In New Zealand, for example, overseas investors bought 4,700 square kilometres of land last year, four times Hong Kong’s land mass, Yiu said. The government there has recently proposed a new law to ban selling property to foreigners.

“If we talk about developing country parks and reclamation now without doing anything to limit overseas investment and speculation, we are using our precious limited land resources to satisfy the unlimited money from around the world,” Yiu said. 

Chan Kim-ching, founder of land concern group Liber Research Community, said the government should look at existing damaged land for development before touching places with high ecological value, such as country parks and the sea. 

The group earlier released a study that found 84,000 flats could be built on about 730 hectares of damaged agricultural land in the New Territories. The study found these brownfield plots had not been included in any official development plans and could be grouped in clusters larger than two hectares, contrary to the government’s account that they were “too scattered” for development.