Nothing funny about long homes queue

Editorial | Mary Ma 13 Oct 2021

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor may have clarified it was meant to be "funny" when she suggested the Housing Authority should be made to pay special subsidies out of its own pocket to some applicants on the public housing waiting list.

What she didn't clarify was that the "funny" thought was a kind of warning to Housing Authority members.

There's no doubt Lam is unhappy at the speed with which the HA has been building public housing.

Nothing can hide this displeasure - not even with the reassuring remarks that her top housing man, Frank Chan Fan, had to make subsequently to pacify disgruntled HA members who lacked the humor to appreciate the rather weak joke.

A funny thought or not, the fact remains that the HA has been slow in providing public housing, failing to meet its target by a wide margin.

The outcome of this failure is that wait times are getting eternal for many applicants.

The HA has set itself a target to keep the wait to three years at most. The fact is, more and more households are stuck in a queue that has stretched longer and longer, forcing the government to pay a special cash allowance to those who have been in the queue for more than three years.

The extra cost is currently borne by the government.

In a TV interview at the weekend, the chief executive raised the idea that, instead, the HA may be made to fork out the subsidies out of its own budget to motivate the quasi-government body to speed up its public housing projects.

That's rather ironic because Chan, Lam's housing minister, is also the HA chairman.

The HA is made up of public figures appointed by the government and their services are voluntary. So it is not difficult to imagine why some were unhappy with Lam's remarks - even though she insisted later it was a funny thought and nothing serious.

If she had been serious, it would have been included in her policy address.

Maybe Lam started a joke but it was unfair to blame the media for "exaggerating" it as she alone can read her own mind 100 percent.

However, those trying to read her mind should realize that it would make little sense for the government to shift the financial burden of the special cash allowances to the HA since it is also funded by the government, despite keeping a separate budget.

If the HA ran out of capital as a result, or under any other circumstances, do you think the government would put up a brick wall when the association tried to speak to it for additional funding? Obviously not.

Whether the subsidies are paid out of the account of the government or the HA, it would still be taxpayers footing the bill. Under no circumstances will the government allow the HA to go bust.

The fuss over Lam's funny thought may be less than hilarious but the message to the HA is clear enough: step on the pedal to accelerate public housing programs.

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