HK leader back-pedals on call for Housing Authority to pay for subsidies; urges wider adoption of prefabricated building materials

13-Oct-2021 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 5:02 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong’s leader has back-pedalled on a suggestion that the city’s main provider of public housing pay cash handouts to those on its years-long waiting list, but kept up pressure on the body to accelerate the delivery of new homes by taking advantage of prefabricated materials.

Speaking at her weekly press briefing on Tuesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor maintained her previous remarks proposing the Housing Authority take over responsibility for making support payments to would-be tenants was merely meant to “spark discussion”.

“This was just an interesting idea. If it was a suggestion proposed by the government, it would have been written in the policy address,” she said. “It is an exaggeration of some media outlets to say that the chief executive intended to punish or shift blame onto the Housing Authority.”

The city leader came under fire from the authority after floating the suggestion, which she said was aimed at “establishing a spirit of accountability” in the statutory body to spur it to deliver affordable homes more effectively.

Summing up the idea in a televised interview on Sunday, she said: “The cash subsidies are currently paid by the government, but why shouldn’t it be the Housing Authority? If you build the estates slowly, you would have to pay.”

The authority’s members, however, fired back, saying the real impediment to creating more housing was a shortage of suitable land.

Wait times for low-income residents eligible for public flats are now the longest they have been in more than 20 years, at an average of 5.8 years. The latest back and forth was over a new initiative under which about 90,000 households that have been queuing at least three years the maximum wait time pledged by the authority receive monthly allowances from the government aimed at improving their living standards.

Asked if she would withdraw her suggestion that the subsidies instead be paid by the authority considering they would ultimately come out of taxpayers’ pockets either way Lam pointed the finger at the media for “creating meaningless social contradictions”.

“Perhaps they wanted quarrels during these quiet days, but these disputes are not constructive,” she said, without naming any specific outlets.

Lam went on to laud the authority for providing 96,500 new public housing units in the past four years a 50 per cent increase over the previous five-year period but nonetheless defended her suggestion as an idea for motivating the statutory body and the civil servants involved to “walk the extra mile” in speeding up the building process.

“The crux of the problem is to review whether there is room to streamline each of the procedures,” she said.

She also proposed that the use of so-called modular integrated construction (MIC) be expanded for public flats. The construction technique involves integrated parts being fabricated, finished and inspected in a factory, then transported to a building site for assembly.

Lam went so far as to suggest that “all buildings constructed with public funds adopt MIC, unless special permission is obtained”.

“Wouldn’t it be exciting if public flats could be completed faster?” she added, citing research by the University of Hong Kong that found the emerging approach could reduce construction time by 30 to 50 per cent compared to traditional methods.

Raymond Chan Yuk-ming, a member of the Housing Authority’s building committee, told a radio programme earlier in the day that land handed over to the statutory body was little more than “pig skulls” a Cantonese expression for unwanted cast-offs adding the body was forced to “accept them with tears”.

He also said officials were forced to “spend a lot of time” responding to neighbourhood concerns about public flats being built on cramped or ecologically sensitive sites.

Housing Secretary Frank Chan Fan, who is also chair of the Housing Authority, said on Monday that the feasibility of MIC depended greatly on the size, terrain and road conditions of the construction site. He added that housing officials were putting their best foot forward and pushing themselves to speed the process up.


Category: Hong Kong

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