New thinking crucial to housing

Updated: 2017-07-12 09:21

(HK Edition)

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It makes perfect sense for Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan to come up with new ideas on fighting off Hong Kong's ongoing housing supply crisis. After witnessing with his own eyes the appalling living conditions of three families living in subdivided flats in Sham Shui Po, the housing secretary on Sunday floated the idea that non-profit organizations could provide safe, hygienic and affordable subdivided flats for low-income households as a short-term solution. To make this idea workable, he suggested the government would study the feasibility of providing subsidies. The housing secretary elaborated on his idea when he met with the media on Tuesday.

As home prices keep escalating and breaking new records despite all the cooling measures the special administrative region government has so far taken over recent years, there is no arguing that it would take years before the city could effectively solve its thorny housing-shortage problem. And ultimately the solution is only going to come from a meaningful increase in land supply as a result of some massive development projects, such as reclamation.

Against this backdrop, any short-term measure that can potentially help mitigate the city's home affordability crisis is worth considering and trying. This is particularly true with Chan's idea, which specifically targets the housing needs of grassroots families - a social stratum that is most vulnerable to the city's housing woes.

It is sad but true that thousands of low-income households, who cannot afford a normal residential unit, are living in illegal subdivided flats in old industrial buildings replete with a mixture of squalor and hazards. And the plain figures - some 300,000 applicants currently on the waiting list for public rental housing flats with an average waiting time of about 4.6 years - suggest that demand for illegal subdivided flats will remain strong in the foreseeable future.

The idea of providing legal, safe, hygienic and affordable subdivided flats - in converted idle buildings and operated by non-profit organizations - is by all means much more practical and humane than an indiscriminate ban on subdivided flats in industrial buildings, as proposed by some on safety grounds. After all, the relevant authorities simply cannot clear up all those illegal subdivided flats as long as demand remains. And even if they can, a bigger problem will emerge for sure - where can those low-income families find an alternative shelter for themselves?

How effective or useful the housing secretary's new idea will be in tackling the current housing problems is unknown at present but there is one thing at least we can be sure of today: Tackling the city's pressing housing problem does need new thinking and ideas.

(HK Edition 07/12/2017 page8)