Give Hong Kong’s most needy public housing priority, top advisers say

Housing Authority members express concern about average waiting time for 147,500 general applicants for rental flats.

Housing advisers to the Hong Kong government have called for a review of the allocation policy for public flats to cut down long waiting times, with one suggesting people living in undesirable conditions, such as subdivided flats, be given priority.

At a Housing Authority annual special meeting on Tuesday, members expressed concern about the average waiting time for 147,500 general applicants for rental housing, which now stands at 6.1 years, a 24-year high and double the body’s pledge of three years.

Cleresa Wong Pie-yue, chairwoman of the authority’s subsidised housing committee, suggested applicants who lived in undesirable environments could have priority for housing over those who already lived in public flats with their family but had applied to split their household.

“For those applicants whose family members all already live in public housing, they are still entitled to apply for more nevertheless, as long as they fulfil the criteria,” Wong said. “Under the shortage of public housing resources, the authority can consider tightening the policy.”

According to an authority survey in 2020, 13 per cent of general applicants had all of the household members already living in public rental housing at the time of application.

Another rule worth changing, she said, was that applicants were currently allowed to reject an offer of a flat twice at most if they did not like the location, for example.

Wong suggested reducing the number of times they could turn down an offer, as the allowance had lengthened waiting times for everyone.

“The prospective tenants will not necessarily welcome the suggestion, but there is a severe shortage of public housing supply and an increasing average wait, the authority has to make a choice unavoidably,” Wong said.

She also called for a review of the Green Form Subsidised Home Ownership Scheme, which allows public housing tenants to buy a home at knockdown prices. But sometimes the scheme ends up competing for land with rental housing projects.

Wong noted the authority should strike a balance between fulfilling applicants’ wishes for home ownership and shortening the average waiting time for rental housing. During economic recessions and when waiting times for rental homes were getting too long, fewer flats should be built under the purchase scheme.

Johnnie Casire Chan Chi-kau, chairman of the authority’s building committee, said the government should import labour as early as possible to address worker shortages in the construction sector and therefore speed up projects.

According to government figures, only six imported construction workers were approved in 2021 and 218 the year before.

Chan said it would help to fulfil the government’s aim of building more than 100,000 flats in the coming five years.

Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan said officials would respond to the members’ views in an open meeting next week.

Meanwhile, New World Development submitted an application for a government land-sharing scheme aimed at unlocking private plots for housing.

A subsidiary of the company has proposed building 3,300 public housing flats for rental or as starter homes, as well 1,300 private ones, on a 5.5-hectare (13.6-acre) site at Wing Ning Tsuen, Yuen Long.

This is the fifth such application for the scheme announced by city leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor in 2018, under which owners of farmland can seek approval to increase the development density of their sites, but must set aside at least 70 per cent of the increased floor area for affordable public sector housing.

In return, the government will carry out infrastructural improvements and speed up various planning and administrative approvals.