Talk alone will not solve Hong Kong housing crisis

SCMP

An acute shortage of land supply has often been blamed for Hong Kong’s housing crunch and soaring property prices. But with just a quarter of our land having been developed, there are still options to explore. What we lack is therefore not so much land to build on, but a consensus on how and where to build.

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Just two months into office, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is well aware of people’s growing expectations on the housing front, and is planning a public debate on ways to enhance land supply through a newly appointed task force.

Amid growing frustration with the prevailing housing situation, Lam’s plan may sound reassuring but whether it will result in more affordable homes in the end remains to be seen.

The truth is that over the past few years the previous government made much effort in providing an adequate supply of land for homes but prices still remain out of reach for most people.

Lam is nonetheless to be commended for tackling the vexed question with a more focused approach. Comprising officials and experts from different fields, the 30-member task force will review land supply options and try to reach consensus through a public engagement exercise.

While members have been given 18 months to finish the task, Lam has already shown her eagerness to achieve early results. The government knows perfectly well that flats cannot be built overnight and, even when there is a concrete action plan in place, it takes time to deliver. The task force should therefore speed up the deliberation process.

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Previous administrations, to their credit, have sought to tackle the housing conundrum through different strategies. The overhaul of land supply was one of the highlights of Lam’s platform on housing. There are those who remain unimpressed, saying the government is resorting to the same old formula of building a so-called public consensus through talking shops.

The dominance of administration-friendly figures in the group, many of whom previously sided with the government on controversial issues, such as building flats in country parks and reclamation of the harbour, also raise fears of bias when it comes to discussion.

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Indeed, housing will not remain the top priority of successive governments if the solution is as simple as staging a wide debate on the way forward in society.

The Lam government should not underestimate the difficulties ahead. Hopefully, the issues involved can be settled once and for all.

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