A public real estate in Fanling in the New Territories. Photo: Google Maps

Hong Kong lawmakers have urged the government to expedite planned public housing projects and give a higher priority to families where both the husband and wife are permanent residents. The call came after the government announced on Wednesday that it had secured enough land to build 301,000 public housing units over the next 10 years.

Based on the Long Term Housing Strategy (LTHS) Annual Progress Report 2020 to be published by the Transport and Housing Bureau (THB), the government has identified all of the 330 hectares of land needed for 316,000 public housing units to meet the demand for about 301,000 public housing units between 2021 and 2031, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said in her fourth Policy Address on Wednesday.

Such land mainly comes from reclamation in Tung Chung, agricultural land and brownfield sites in New Development Areas (NDAs) such as Kwu Tung North/Fanling North and Hung Shui Kiu/Ha Tsuen in the New Territories, Lam said.

The government will speed up implementation of the Northern Link railway project to tie in with the population intake of the public housing development in Kwu Tung North NDA, and provide impetus for growth in the area covering San Tin, Ngau Tam Mei and Au Tau.

“The government has so far identified housing sites with a total area of about 90 hectares, equivalent to the size of four Taikoo Shings, along the Northern Link, including the San Tin/Lok Ma Chau Development Node, and related studies are being conducted progressively,” Lam said. If the Northern Link project is implemented, it is anticipated that more than 70,000 housing units can be provided on these sites, she added.

Other resources include a number of sites that have been rezoned for public housing, the re-allocation of nine sites at Kai Tak and Anderson Road Quarry, partial development of the Fanling Golf Course and a number of brownfield clusters with housing potential.

Aron Kwok Wai-keung, a lawmaker from the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, said Thursday it was good that the government had secured enough land resources for public housing.

However, he said in a question-and-answer session in the Legislative Council attended by Lam that the supply of public and subsidized housing would probably remain low in the coming few years due to slow approval and construction processes.

Lam said the Development Bureau would strengthen its supervision of land use and ensure the planned constructions were on track. She added that the Transport and Housing Bureau, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and the Home Affairs Bureau would jointly speed up the approval processes.

For many years, the government’s public housing development plan has been criticized by activists and lawmakers for failing to meet the needs of low-income families.

According to the Housing Authority, public housing applications amounted to 156,000 at the end of September. On average, applicants have to spend 5.6 years to be granted a flat while those over 60 can get a flat within 3.3 years. In a separate queue, there is an annual quota of 2,200 flats for non-elderly one-person applicants, which amounted to 108,300 last year.

Roy Tam Hoi-pong, a district councillor in Tsuen Wan and an environmentalist, wrote in an article that for many years most public housing units had been granted to those with mainland spouses, who were not required to declare their assets and income in China. Tam said families in which both the husband and wife were Hong Kong permanent residents should be given a higher priority.

Currently, the maximum monthly income limit of a two-people family is HK$19,430 (US$2,506) while total net asset limit of such a family is HK$360,000.

In many cases, a Hong Kong man marries a mainland woman, buys properties and keeps most of their money in mainland and reports only his monthly income when applying for a public housing unit in the territory. Their children can also apply for a public flat after they grow up and have permanent residency.

In the decade ended March 2019, more than 450,000 mainland people moved to Hong Kong for family reunions on Permits for Proceeding to Hong Kong and Macao, or so-called one-way permits, said Hong Kong’s Security Bureau. Since July 1997, more than a million mainlanders have migrated to Hong Kong, which has a population of 7.5 million.

On average, a Hong Kong person has to spend about four to five years to apply for an one-way permit for his or her mainland spouse to move to Hong Kong. During the period, the couple can queue up for a public flat.

Meanwhile, if both the husband and wife are permanent residents in Hong Kong, their monthly incomes could probably exceed the limit. They then have to spend 40-50% of their income to rent an apartment or have no choice but to live with their parents.

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