24 April 2019
Carrie Lam (L) speaks during an RTHK forum on Sunday, responding to various questions in relation to her upcoming annual policy address. Photo: HK Govt
Carrie Lam (L) speaks during an RTHK forum on Sunday, responding to various questions in relation to her upcoming annual policy address. Photo: HK Govt

Lam admits housing remains a hard task; ‘no flour to make bread’

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has reiterated that the housing issue remains a top priority for her administration, but she admitted that there is only so much the government can do in view of the land constraints.

Attending an RTHK forum on Sunday to gather public opinions in relation to her upcoming annual policy address, Lam said the government is eager to build more affordable subsidized homes for Hong Kong people.

However, the public should not expect miracles, she suggested, pointing to shortage of land resources.

The government is now like a baker who has no flour on hand and therefore cannot make bread, Lam said, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

But some members of the audience disagreed, saying it is not true that Hong Kong does not have land to boost housing supply.

The real problem, the citizens argued, lies in the fact that the government lacks proper planning on the issue.

They pointed out that there are many idle agricultural land plots, and the so-called brownfields — which refer to land that has been zoned for industrial or commercial use but is now mainly used for other purposes such as storage dumps, as well as golf courses and military sites — that can be developed into residential housing.

The citizens, meanwhile, voiced their objection to the options of increasing land supply through reclamation and development of country parks, arguing that such moves will be detrimental to the natural environment.

While Lam did not respond to all of the options proposed by the Task Force on Land Supply, an expert panel appointed by her last year to come up with suggestions to help resolve Hong Kong’s housing woes, she stressed that the government cannot depend on only one option.

Authorities need to rely on several means to identify and secure land for the city’s long-term development, the chief executive said.

As to the proposal of boosting land supply through land reclamation in nearby mainland waters, Lam did not think it is a good idea, as she emphasized that Hong Kong should do its best to solve its problems on its own.

Lam also poured cold water on the idea of development of military sites. None of such sites are currently idle, she said, also pointing out that utilization of such land is not entirely within the Hong Kong government’s control as per the Basic Law and the Garrison Law.

In response to a suggestion that Hong Kong’s property woes are a fallout of inbound investment policies, Lam called such thinking overwhelmingly simple.

Non-local home buyers currently account for only 2-3 percent of the total transactions in the city, following the market-cooling measures launched by the government earlier, she said.

As for the demand that the government should reduce the quota of one-way permits for migrants from the mainland, who had been accused of being a key factor behind the surge in home prices, Lam said she doesn’t agree with the suggestion.

Quota reduction is pointless, Lam said, stressing that people arriving from mainland China are mainly for the purpose of family reunions. Also, such immigrants have contributed to the city’s economic growth over the years, she said, while pointing out that her father, too, had moved here from the Chinese mainland.

On the issue of extending the vacant property tax — which aims to discourage property owners from keeping their flats locked up — to second-hand homes, Lam said there is no such plan at the moment, as any such move will only make the tax proposal more complicated and controversial.

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