【明報專訊】Outlining a long-term vision for Hong Kong's development, the central government expects the city to bid farewell to subdivided flats and cage homes and have the housing problem largely solved. This is not only the desire of Hong Kong society but also a non-negotiable demand the central government has issued to those who govern the city. The Chief Executive said the authorities treat finding land for housing as urgent a matter as "warfare" and they are in no comfortable state of mind — a far cry from the public's perception about what they have done. The authorities must face this perceptual discrepancy squarely. They must sincerely ask themselves whether they tune into the grassroots community, are connected to ordinary people's thoughts, are able to deliver what citizens want and have acted promptly to address citizens' pressing needs. Land and housing supply is the biggest perpetual problem in Hong Kong's development. Last year, more than 120,000 households in the entire city lived in substandard conditions. To fulfil the vision of getting rid of subdivided flats and cage homes, action must be taken now. The authorities must change their original mindset to shorten the land development time frame substantially and create land in a bold and resolute manner. The city's administrators must present a clear road map and establish goals in different stages together with a concrete timetable, and win people's trust through their performance in governance.
Xia Baolong, director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, said that when the state achieves its goal for the second centenary in the middle of this century, Hong Kong's future will also be bright. "The current housing problem that troubles the people so much will definitely be overcome." For that purpose, the most vivid and concrete sign will be "bidding farewell to subdivided flats and cage homes". But Chief Executive Carrie Lam has described this vision as a "very far" one. In view of the time needed to find land for housing, the government will take a three-pronged approach in the short term to "help as much as possible" grassroots citizens who live in a relatively poor environment. They include building 15,000 units of transitional housing in two years, offering cash subsidies to households that have been on the waiting list for public rental housing for more than three years, and introducing rent control for subdivided flats.
Finding land for housing is not something that can be accomplished in one go. Still, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. According to the latest figures announced by the Housing Authority, the average waiting time for public housing is as long as 5.8 years. Hundreds of thousands of grassroots citizens are waiting for a unit on public housing estates. If the housing problem can be solved earlier, it will be addressing citizens' pressing needs and resolving their difficulties.
Of the five demands raised by Xia to Hong Kong's administrators, one is to do practical things properly for the people and have a "people first" mentality when serving the community. They need to tune into the grassroots community and get connected to ordinary people's thoughts, and gain people's trust through their performance in governance. Xia's remarks are in essence a reminder that the team governing Hong Kong and top officials must stay away from red tape.
For the city to overcome its housing problem and bid farewell to subdivided flats and cage homes, there must be a clear road map. Not only should there be a clear set of medium-term goals, but there should also be a working plan for four to five years so as to make sure that continued efforts are made in accordance with the schedule. At the same time, fixed parameters should also be set for all the related measures of reform. The time frame for land development, for example, should be shortened. According to the government's existing procedures, a "potential site" must be turned into a "disposable site" through legal procedures before housing can be built on a piece of land. The time it takes can be as long as 20 years. The authorities should first set a specific goal. They can, for example, shorten the entire development time frame to within eight to 10 years. Then they should look into the different steps concerned to see how to shorten the time needed.
a far cry from sth : a very different experience from sth
pressing : needing to be dealt with immediately
in one go : all together on one occasion