HK road map to fix housing woes draws mixed views

HK road map to fix housing woes draws mixed views
Hong Kong's living spaces are so congested that the government-appointed Long-Term Housing Strategy Steering Committee says 470,000 new homes need to be built over the next 10 years.

Hong Kong's sky-high property prices and infamous warren of "coffin homes" hopefully will become a thing of the past if a government-appointed commission's road map goes as planned.

It proposes to solve the city's intractable housing crisis by building 470,000 new homes over the next decade. The state will take a more active role, with public flats making up 60 per cent of all housing, up from 50 per cent now.

But the plan - the result of a 10-month-long deliberation by the Long-Term Housing Strategy Steering Committee - has received mixed reactions since it was announced three weeks ago.

Some hail it as a step in the right direction, but others find it inadequate for meeting demand. A key challenge lies in finding the land for the new flats.

Still others criticise the proposal for not tackling key issues exacerbating the problem, such as cheap loans and the state's land pricing and population policies. They say ramping up supply without factoring in these issues could lead to over-building, even as nature lovers worry the city's nature reserves will be threatened.

"We need to control population growth, and not let so many mainland migrants in," Ms Fish Yu of the lobby group Green Sense said at a forum held this week to discuss the proposal. Some 760,000 mainland Chinese have settled here since 1997, under a Beijing-controlled quota system to facilitate family reunions.

At the forum, Housing Secretary Anthony Cheung acknowledged the complexity of the issues, saying: "Inevitably, we have to make some choices."

Not all the feedback has been negative. Some people applauded the government's more interventionist approach. "Why not increase public flats to 70 per cent?" one resident suggested.

Dr Cheung pledged that the government would learn from the past, noting that in 2003, it over-reacted to plummeting property prices by abandoning its policy to build 85,000 flats a year.

"If we had not done that, we would be able to respond more quickly to needs now. Government policies should not lag behind market demand," he added.

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