Editorial:The onus is on the government to create land

【明報專訊】AS HONG KONG is faced with a shortfall in the short- to medium-term supply of public housing, the Chief Executive has said that she will press the Housing Authority (HA) to build housing as soon as possible. She is even considering the introduction of a mechanism to hold the HA accountable. The HA is not putting up housing as quickly as private developers do. Any measure that can improve efficiency should be considered. However, it is the government itself that must bear the biggest responsibility for the dire housing problem in Hong Kong.

According to the HA's data, the total supply of public rental housing and green homes will be about 67,000 units from 2020/21 to 2024/25, averaging only 13,000 units or so per year. The situation in 2024/25 will be the worst, as the supply will drop to 5,500 units, the lowest figure since the handover. The government admits that the public housing supply in the next 10 years will be concentrated in the later years, meaning that the housing supply for the later five years will need to increase exponentially to make up for the inadequacies in the earlier years. And it is still not known whether this can be achieved. With public housing production facing a shortfall over the next couple of years, it cannot be ruled out that the waiting time for public housing will exceed six years. As for the number of households living in subdivided flats, it could rise further from the current 200,000. Members of the HA have urged the government to speed up the progress of land creation so as not to prolong the waiting time for public housing further. However, in the new Policy Address, it cannot be seen that the government has a good way to increase short-term supply substantially.

Most of the measures proposed in the Policy Address for the search of land and the building of housing are targeted at the long run. Be it the Northern Metropolis scheme or Lantau Tomorrow Vision, it will take more than 10 years before new land and buildings appear on the ground at the earliest given the speed at which land is being created currently. ''When the grass grows, the horse starves,'' as the saying goes. The government does not have a good way to significantly increase the supply of land and housing in the short to medium term. The only short-term palliative measures it can offer are mainly transitional housing, rental control for subdivided flats and cash allowances to public housing applicants. There is a backlog of 254,600 applications on the public housing waiting list, and the average waiting time has increased to 5.8 years. A few days ago, Chief Executive Carrie Lam reiterated in an interview that it is the government's goal to allow public housing applicants to get their flats within three years. She said the HA has a responsibility to build housing as soon as possible. The government will review the HA's housing construction procedures to study whether there is room for compressing them. She will also urge the HA to use more new building technologies such as prefabricated units to speed up housing construction. At the same time, she will also consider introducing mechanisms to ''reflect the spirit of accountability.'' The initial idea is that if the HA's rate of housing construction is slow, it will have to pay the cash allowance to people who have been waiting for public housing for more than three years in the place of the government.

From planning to taking in residents, it took an average of just seven years or so for new towns developed before 2000, such as Tin Shui Wai, Tseung Kwan O and Tung Chung, to complete. In contrast, since the beginning of the new century, new town projects such as Kwu Tung North and Hung Shui Kiu have seen more than double the development time. As the HA's construction efficiency is lower than before, any new technology that can speed up construction should of course be actively adopted.

The central government hopes that Hong Kong will bid farewell to subdivided flats and cage homes. But the SAR government has not made a clear commitment but has got bogged down by the definition of subdivided housing. Carrie Lam has reiterated the goal of letting applicants for public housing get their flats within three years, but she has not proposed a timetable for achieving it in phases. If the government does not set itself a deadline and a hard target, it will be questionable where accountability lies.

明報社評 2021.10.12:造地不力責在政府 房屋問責涵蓋高官






■/ Glossary 生字 /

palliative:(of an action, a decision, etc.) designed to make a difficult situation seem better without actually solving the cause of the problems

backlog:a quantity of work that should have been done already, but has not yet been done

prefabricated:(especially of a building) made in sections that can be put together later


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