Legislative Council meeting Members’ Motions – Increasing transitional housing supply

MOTION ON “INCREASING TRANSITIONAL HOUSING SUPPLY”

MR CHAN CHUN-YING (in Cantonese):

President, first of all, I would like to thank Mr Vincent CHENG for moving this motion today to allow Members to express their views on this subject for the Government’s consideration. Hong Kong initiated the New Town Development Programme in 1973 to cope with the projected population growth. At that time, there were nine new towns with a total population of 3.5 million. Among these nine new towns, six (including Tsuen Wan, Sha Tin, Tuen Mun, Tai Po, Tseung Kwan O and Tung Chung) were obtained from reclamation and the reclaimed land had provided extensive development sites for large public housing estates. However, in recent years, land reclamation has often attracted great controversy. Large-scale public housing development projects have become few and far between, something that is hard to come by.

Yesterday, the Government formally accepted the report submitted by the Task Force on Land Supply to give priority to the development of eight medium-to-long term land options for the production of about 3 000 hectares of land. Yet the reality is that for the housing needs of the grass roots, the Hong Kong Housing Authority still has to constantly identify land for development.In recent years, most buildings in the new public housing sites are densely constructed without much planning. On the other hand, the number of PRH applications has already reached 260 000. Therefore, in order to alleviate the pressure on the ardent demand for PRH, it is indeed necessary to have transitional housing arrangement as a new interim point to triage the housing needs of the grass roots. As Ms Alice MAK has just mentioned, temporary housing was actually very common in Hong Kong in the 1950s.

For the implementation of a transitional housing scheme, first of all, the Government should clarify the eligibility of applicants. It is believed that those who are currently living in subdivided units or others who have housing needs have already applied for PRH. The scheme can simplify the procedures by listing this group of registered waitlisted applicants who are eligible for PRH under the transitional housing waiting list. For others who are non-PRH applicants as mentioned by Prof Joseph LEE, we have to consider their removal from the transitional housing units and study how to arrange their future housing needs. Secondly, we have to set the priority of the waiting list. For example, transitional housing would be arranged for those applicants who have obtained a PRH registration number and have waited for three years or above. Still the details have to be agreed upon by us later. By comparing this figure with the actual supply of public housing in the next few years, we would be able to assess the actual demand for transitional housing.

After setting the direction of the scheme, the most important part is how to supply the relevant transitional housing units. As many Members have just mentioned, transitional housing should be government-led instead of being arranged by community organizations. Nonetheless, in the short term, it is difficult for the Government to model on the past method of reclaiming large areas of land to solve the problem of temporary or transitional housing. Therefore, we can only do some brain-work from what is available now. The Government is actively studying the conversion of industrial buildings into residential uses, namely the revitalization of industrial buildings. Last November, the Town Planning Board accepted the Government’s proposal to flexibly handle the application of converting industrial buildings into transitional housing. This is a good start. However, as Mr YIU Si-wing has said just now, a single source of supply obviously could not overcome the present predicament. Therefore, we hope that the Government can also conduct a comprehensive review on the existing idle agricultural land in the rural areas as soon as possible. If it is confirmed that there are no development plans in the next few years, the sites should be used to develop transitional housing by the Government or non-governmental organizations instead in the form of a lease.

President, although according to the existing Schedule of Notes to Outline Zoning Plans, unless otherwise specified, prior permission from the Town Planning Board should be obtained for the development of transitional housing in the rural areas. However, I believe that the Task Force on Transitional Housing under the Transport and Housing Bureau can definitely resolve similar technical problems and remove all restrictions for the provision of transitional housing.

Apart from land supply, it is also a challenge to produce housing units from scratch in a short period of time. If we cannot find suitable existing buildings, like industrial buildings, then prefabricated modular housing could be a viable option. The construction period of these modular housing has been significantly shortened, with a service life of 50 years. The industry estimated that each unit would cost about $400,000. The biggest advantage is that it can be recycled, i.e. can be easily relocated from one transitional site to another one, which is environmentally friendly and cost-effective.

At present, we have transitional housing schemes such as the Social Housing Sharing Scheme, the Modular Social Housing Scheme, the Light Housing Project and the SOUK housing project. Although the names or formats of the schemes are different and there are various organizations in operation, they all face the same challenge of “funding support”. I hope that in the Budget to be announced by the Financial Secretary next Wednesday, the Government will really allocate a sum of money to set up a “Transitional Housing Fund” as it is rumoured, to ease the housing problem of people who are waiting for public housing and those living in undesirable conditions.

President, I will support Mr Vincent CHENG’s motion today. As for the other amendments, like setting transitional housing targets, developing idle agricultural land and Government land, I will also support each and every one of these constructive ideas.

I so submit. Thank you, President