【明報專訊】As the number of public housing units completed over the next couple of years is to be outstripped by the demand, transitional housing has become a short-term palliative measure. The previous administration announced that it had found enough land to build 20,000 units within three years. The current administration is even considering ways to boost the supply of units by increasing the number of storeys of those buildings.
The average waiting time for public housing is as long as six years. If the government does not think of ways to cope with the shortfall in housing supply, it might not even be able to prevent the waiting time from lengthening. The amount of public housing to be completed over the next five years will depend on the amount of land developed in the previous five years. The current administration has emphasised housing construction "at greater speed and in greater volume". Its success cannot be measured until after another five years have passed at the earliest. In contrast, transitional housing requires shorter building time. As long as land is available, such housing can be completed and taken in residents within about a year in theory. As of June this year, more than 5,200 transitional housing units had gone into service. For the government, transitional housing has become a short-term palliative measure. For grassroots citizens, it is always better to live in transitional housing than in subdivided flats.
The first transitional housing project was "Nam Cheong 220" in Sham Shui Po. The land was lent by a private developer in 2017. Construction work began in the third quarter of 2019, and residents moved in the following summer. Nearly 100 households had to move out at the end of this month due to the expiration of the land lease, having lived in the flats for less than two years. Only 25% of the households were offered a public housing unit timely, and nearly 60% of them had to move to transitional housing in Yuen Long and other regions. Around ten households were unwilling to relocate to a remote region because of livelihood needs and, as a result, could only return to the private market and start to live in subdivided flats again. It is true that the construction of "Nam Cheong 220", a pioneer project, was delayed by more than two years, and the situation is rather unique. However, given the fact that the supply of public housing remains unlikely to improve significantly until six or seven years later, if a project's land lease is short, situations in which tenants have to move out before long will be more likely than imagined. For residents who are treated like "human balls", the feeling is absolutely not nice.
To solve the housing problem of grassroots people once and for all, it is necessary to speed up land construction for the building of public housing. Transitional housing is a palliative measure that does not tackle the root cause. The government should not get the priorities wrong in terms of land and housing policies and the use of resources. The purpose of transitional housing is to provide relatively livable housing units for people waiting for public housing so that they do not need to languish in subdivided flats. With tens of thousands of units to be completed in the next few years, it is necessary for the authorities to put more effort into cost control and strive to focus on the practical rather than esthetic side of these flats. At present, there are more than 30 NGOs involved in the development of transitional housing. Some of them have limited human and physical resources, and they do not have a deep understanding of housing design and construction. False starts are therefore likely. One example is the "House of Pipes" project at Tsuen Wan, which was shelved because practical issues of the design had not been taken into consideration. The construction of transitional housing should be led by experienced agencies such as the government or the Housing Society before the flats are handed over to NGOs for operation after completion. This will help unify standards and lead to more effective control of costs and quality, and is obviously a more ideal practice.
明報社評 2022.09.22：優化過渡房屋政策 控制成本實而不華
/ Glossary 生字 /
palliative：designed to make a difficult situation seem better without actually solving the cause of the problems
strive：to try very hard to achieve sth
shelve：to decide not to continue with a plan, either for a short time or permanently