Hong Kong’s public housing supply in the next 10 years may fall short of the official target of 300,000 by 8 per cent, a think tank has estimated, as it called for greater transparency and accountability over the lack of homes from the incoming administration. In a report released on Tuesday, Our Hong Kong Foundation noted the perennial delays in housing projects and pointed out that land immediately available for building private housing would be used up soon. Until new towns were ready, a few years of bottlenecks could be expected, it warned. “The government has been talking about a backloaded supply since 2015, but it is just wishful thinking,” said Ryan Ip Man-ki, head of land and housing research, as the group released its yearly forecast of housing supply. The report warned the situation could be just the “tip of the iceberg”, given the government’s reluctance to disclose details on delays unless it was requested by district councils or the Legislative Council. Hongkongers need their piece of land to find peace of mind Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced in her 2020 policy address that the government had located all 330 hectares of land needed to build 316,000 public flats in the decade leading to 2031, exceeding the 301,000 units targeted. One-third would be completed within the first five years, while the remaining would be completed in the latter half, she said. But the think tank said it had little faith in the government meeting supply projections, given its past record of repeated delays: on average, nine projects and more than 14,000 units were delayed annually between 2013 and 2024. Assuming a one-year delay in major land initiatives, such as new development areas in the New Territories, the group estimated only 277,100 public housing flats would be built in the coming decade, falling short of the government’s target of 301,000 by 8 per cent. It identified examples of “hidden delays” in some public housing projects, which are beyond the Housing Authority’s five-year production plans, meaning officials are not required to disclose their progress. There was Chung Nga Road West in Tai Po, which has been trapped in an endless cycle of back-and-forth deliberations since 2014. Over this period, district councillors raised concerns over the 1,000-unit project, such as traffic congestion, lack of parking space and shopping facilities in three initial rounds of consultation. Each time, housing officials submitted similar plans without addressing the issues. The project’s estimated completion date is set at 2030-31, but there has been no consensus on the proposal. The think tank called for the appointment of a project manager who would coordinate and monitor progress with clear key performance indicators, and ensure communication between the government and the district council. A public housing project at San Hing Road in Tuen Mun, announced in 2014, was also raised as an example. The government only held 34 per cent of land for the site while different parties held the rest privately, increasing the difficulty in land resumption and worsening delays. The foundation said the private landlords had been discouraged from developing private housing themselves, with the government rejecting developers’ applications to relax the building height limit and density on the site. This stymied progress in either public or housing developments. The think tank suggested the government be more open-minded in working with the private market to solve housing problems. It also pointed to a lack of a proper accountability mechanism and urged the government to be more transparent and end the vicious cycle of project delays. Cleresa Wong Pie-yue, chairman of the Housing Authority’s subsidised housing committee, said it would be difficult to hold the authority’s members accountable. “Members are basically not paid and have no remuneration, working for the authority on a voluntary basis,” she said. Wong added that the government would need to set key performance indicators carefully as targets might not be easily fulfilled when the external environment changes and affects the economy and home affordability. In response to the suggestion of appointing a project manager for each housing project, Wong stressed that the authority had been responding to the district council’s concerns and it was unclear if a project manager would facilitate the process. She said the authority anticipated that the incoming government would coordinate different departments to speed up housing supply. Who is to blame for Hong Kong’s housing woes: developers or the government? On the private housing supply in the next 10 years, the report said that the annual completion rate would remain at a reasonable level of 17,300 units in the coming five years, mainly due to the Tung Chung New Town extension development. The supply between 2027-2031, however, was expected to fall short. It explained that sites from government land sale and railway projects would be used up in the coming few years and new development areas would only be ready from 2027. Our Hong Kong Foundation’s Ip said it would be crucial to push forward the completion of these areas, as Hung Shui Kiu, Kwu Tung North and Fanling North would provide over 200,000 housing units. To expedite housing supply, Ip called for administrative procedures to be streamlined. He noted that public consultations could be integrated before applications were made to the Town Planning Board, and to proceed with private landowners’ development applications even if they did not fit the government’s timeline of development for the area. Brian Wong Shiu-hung, member of the Liber Research Community, disagreed on further reducing public consultation procedures on land development projects, given that the government has already proposed to streamline statutory procedures by limiting residents’ input. “There is no room for public participation,” said Wong. “It would sacrifice the quality of planning. The district council consultation caters to the district’s needs.” He added that it would be more useful to introduce vacancy tax to stop developers from holding back private units and help raise private housing supply in the market. The incumbent government once looked into introducing tax on vacant first-hand private residential properties in 2018, but the plan was shelved after two years.