Hong Kong housing

Housing chief grilled over policy failing to ease crisis for Hong Kong’s poor and middle class

  • Lawmakers pepper minister with reminders that government estimates falling short of city’s targets
PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 November, 2018, 9:20pm
UPDATED : Monday, 05 November, 2018, 9:21pm

Hong Kong lawmakers grilled the city’s housing minister on Monday, slamming the government’s policy package on the hot-button issue for failing to help the poor or middle class.

As officials lag behind their target for public sector housing, Legislative Council members also urged Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan to set aside 70 per cent of the city’s future residential land for affordable flats.

Government figures show there will be 74,900 low-rent public flats completed by 2023, as well as 26,300 subsidised flats for sale completed in the same five-year period.

This means 14,980 public rental flats and 5,260 subsidised flats for sale will be provided each year – far below the annual government target of 20,000 public rental flats and 8,000 subsidised sale flats.

New private homes on Hong Kong market hit 14-year high

At a Legco meeting on Monday, lawmakers told Chan the shortfall had rendered the city’s housing policies meaningless.

Pro-democratic lawmaker Au Nok-hin said the poorest were facing longer waiting times for a low-rent public flat, while he compared the chances of the middle class buying a subsidised sale flat to winning a lottery due to the low supply and high demand.

The existing policies cannot help the poor improve their living condition
Au Nok-hin, lawmaker

“I hope the government will think about how its policies can help the people it wants to help,” Au said. “The existing policies cannot help the poor improve their living condition or the young middle class get on the property ladder.”

Under the government’s “rebuilding the property ladder” package of policies, public rental flats are for the lowest-income families; green form subsidised sale flats – at 60 per cent off the market prices – are for rental flat tenants who have become richer; subsidised sale flats – at half the market prices – are for the lower middle class; and starter homes – at 30 or 40 per cent off the market rates – are for the upper middle class.

But as of the end of June, there were some 268,500 applicants waiting for public rental flats, with the average waiting time for families or single elderly reaching a record five years and three months.

In the latest round of subsidised home sales, some 260,000 applicants will compete for just 4,431 flats.

Democratic Party lawmaker Wu Chi-wai urged Chan to set aside 70 per cent of its future residential land for developing public sector housing, including rental and subsidised sale flats.

“You are falling too far behind,” Wu told the minister. “If you don’t change this ratio, you won’t be able to solve the housing problem at all.”

The government’s existing target is for 60 per cent of all residential flats to be allocated to the public sector, and the rest for private homes. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has promised she would consider raising the proportion of public sector flats to 70 per cent.

Chan said officials had been using the number of flats instead of land area as the basis for the city’s housing target because it was “easy for the public to understand”.

He added the government would keep making an effort to increase the public sector housing supply, such as redesignating some private residential sites for this purpose.