Date
11 December 2016
The number of applications for flats under the public rental housing program has hit a record high of 290,000 in September, while the average wait time for applicants has risen to 4.5 years. Photo: HKEJ
The number of applications for flats under the public rental housing program has hit a record high of 290,000 in September, while the average wait time for applicants has risen to 4.5 years. Photo: HKEJ

Time to take stock of CY Leung’s housing policy

While outgoing US President Barack Obama may go down in history as one of his country’s most popular and congenial leaders, Hong Kong people are polarized in their feelings about Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who is also approaching the end of his current term in office.

So what is the legacy of Leung’s administration?

Since this question can be answered from different perspectives, we have decided to focus on one key policy on the Chief Executive’s agenda, which is housing.

What has he actually accomplished in addressing this fundamental issue, which lies at the heart of his governing blueprint?

Over the past four years Leung’s administration has taken great pains to find sites for building new flats, so much so that some critics say it is scrambling madly for land regardless of the social costs it entails.

Despite this, however, Leung’s housing policy has by and large remained a failure, if not a total flop.

Leung’s “spicy measures” to curb skyrocketing property prices are the latest testimony to his failure to alleviate the housing shortage and ward off speculators.

This has resulted in probably the worst home affordability crisis this city has ever seen in decades.

In another indication of our deepening housing crisis, the number of applications for flats under the public rental housing (PRH) program has hit a record high of 290,000 in September, while the average wait time for applicants has risen to 4.5 years.

According to the Housing Authority’s estimation, the prolonged wait time for PRH applicants is unlikely to see any improvement at least until 2020.

Even though the Housing Authority is planning to tighten the so-called “well-off tenants policy” by strictly enforcing the eviction of tenants who have failed to pass the means test, thereby providing several hundred more vacant flats for those in need every year, it’s just peanuts compared to the hundreds of thousands of applicants who have been queuing up for years.

To make things worse, a recent document submitted by the Transport and Housing Bureau to the Legislative Council suggests that housing supply in Hong Kong has fallen seriously short of expectations, and that the gap is continuing to widen.

According to government figures, only 92,000 new residential units will be available over the next five years.

Among these new homes, 71,000 are PRH flats, just slightly more than half of the expected number (140,000) projected in the Long-Term Housing Strategy announced by the administration in December 2014.

With the number of PRH applicants increasing, it appears our public housing supply is hopelessly falling behind the demand.

One might still recall that before CY Leung became chief executive, he had pledged to make housing a top priority on his policy agenda.

Nevertheless, four years into his term in office, the housing crisis that has been plaguing our city for so long rages on with no end in sight.

Ironically, while our own leader seems powerless in the face of the crisis, it appears it is Donald Trump, the newly elected leader of a country half way around the world from us, who may be able to offer a way out.

His proposed economic stimulus program is likely to accelerate inflation in the United States and put an end to the global low interest rate environment sooner than expected, thereby curbing speculative activities in the property market.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 14.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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