Caution on housing plans

| Siu Sai-wo 15 Jul 2019

Hong Kong has a serious housing problem, and one of the laudable acts of the current government is to reassign nine private housing sites for public housing use, giving people a better chance of moving into subsidized homes.

Even if sites are available, we need someone to construct the projects, so the Housing Society has been entrusted with developing five of these projects.

Society chief executive Wong Kit-loong said it would, of course, do its utmost to discharge such an onerous responsibility, and it will proceed prudently.

He noted that managing multiple projects simultaneously involves considerable fiscal pressure, and would put the society in a financially tight situation in a few years.

The sites that have been allocated to the society are quality urban ones located mainly around Kai Tak, with one at Anderson Road. That last site commands sea views and the society is starting development procedures.

Wong said according to present projection, the project would exhaust the society's fiscal reserves during its peak investment period.

While current housing demand is high and land supply is short, changes in the economy and the property market remain hard to predict, and extreme caution is needed.

Wong said he felt this way because of the society's experience in the post-2003 SARS epidemic period when the administration halted the sale of subsidized housing to rescue the rock-bottom private housing market.

The sale suspension included the society's sandwich-class estates and the move threw the housing body into a financial bind.

Fortunately, then-secretary for development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor allowed the society to market the flats as private homes after paying additional land premiums.

The move helped the society to avert financial depletion while giving people a chance to buy cheaper homes.

As such, even if sites are provided, the society would approach new developments cautiously, bearing in mind that there could be risks associated with changing market conditions.

Siu Sai-wo is publisher of Sing Tao Daily

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