Following is a speech by the Secretary for Housing, Mr Dominic Wong, on "Motion of Thanks to the Chief Executive" in the Legislative Council today (November 1):
Some Members have spoken and expressed their concern on housing development in Hong Kong. They have also expressed support for our new ideas. In fact, housing is everyone's concern and the task of formulating housing policies is not an easy one. On the one hand, the Government must strike the right balance between the interests of various sections of the community. On the other, its priority is to look after those who are most in need. With these principles in mind, we published in February 1998 the White Paper on Long Term Housing Strategy, setting out our long term goals and strategy.
By now, we have already implemented all the specific initiatives contained in the White Paper as well as new ones put forward in subsequent Policy Addresses. As a result of our efforts in the past three years, the number of inadequately housed people has been reduced from nine per cent of total households to 6.3 per cent today, while the average waiting time for public rental housing has been reduced from 6.5 years to five years. 117,000 households which cannot afford to rent or buy flats in the private sector have been allocated public rental flats. More than 150,000 families have bought their own homes under various housing assistance schemes. Among these, over 50,000 are families which have bought the public rental flats in which they live. Property prices have also stabilised and have become more affordable. Many families have bought flats in the private sector market.
While we have made good progress in several key directions, we review regularly our policies and ways of implementation in response to changing circumstances and aspirations of the community. I am therefore grateful to Members for their comments on the Chief Executive's Policy Address and my Housing Policy Objective Booklet. I wish to respond today on four issues: supply of land for housing, providing housing assistance opportunities, public housing quality, and housing needs of elderly and non-elderly singletons.
Supply of land for housing
First, supply of land for housing. To match Hong Kong's population growth and for long term planning purposes, the public has all along strongly demanded that the Government should have a sufficient land bank for housing development. The Government also agrees that we should have an adequate land bank. In fact, the Government has taken steps towards providing an adequate supply in the next eight years. My Housing Bureau maintains a computerised inventory which has at present information on about 1,000 actual or potential housing sites. Progress of these sites is monitored by Project Directors in the Housing Department, Lands Department, Planning Department and Territory Development Department. For the period up to 2007-08, these sites have the potential for building up to 730,000 flats. I must emphasise, however, that this is only a 'potential', not a specific target. In deciding to develop these sites, the Government must consider the land and housing needs of the community in the long term, and comply with town planning and engineering requirements. Hence, the Government does not have a fixed "flat production target". These 1,000 sites only signify that we have a sufficient land bank which can be released for the purpose of building flats, if there is actual market demand. In other words, the number of sites to be provided by the Government will depend on the market situation and actual housing demand at the time, and not on any fixed target.
As for the property market, everyone knows that property prices fluctuate inevitably. Hong Kong was under the impact of the Asian financial crisis in recent years, and our property market was seriously affected. Nevertheless, with the revival of the economy, the property market has been developing in a stable and healthy manner. The number of transactions has also stabilised. The Government will continue to monitor market developments.
Providing housing assistance opportunities
Second, several Members have referred to providing sufficient housing assistance opportunities. The Government is committed to providing 50,000 housing assistance opportunities annually to eligible families, which include the provision of public rental housing, subsidised home ownership flats and loans for purchasing flats in the private sector. I am grateful to those Members who have expressed support for the Government's direction in the provision of housing assistance. In fact, the provision of loans to make up for the reduction in home ownership flat production will offer a wider choice to prospective home buyers in the low income group.
Public housing quality
Thirdly, I turn to public housing quality. Madam President, Members have stressed repeatedly the importance of public housing quality and safety. This is understandable. Their concerns are shared both by the Government and by the community. I can tell Members that the Housing Authority and the Housing Department have taken wide-ranging measures to restore public confidence in public housing. Following public consultation, the Housing Authority has approved 50 measures to improve the quality of public housing. These measures have either been implemented or are under active planning.
I know that Members expect to see results quickly. So does the Government. The Housing Department will set up an independent unit this month to undertake independent checks of piling, structural and building works submissions of the Department, and to conduct site inspections at various stages of projects to comply with requirements under the Buildings Ordinance. Separately, the Investigation Panel on Staff Discipline in the Tin Chung Court and Yuen Chau Kok incidents will soon complete its investigations and submit a report to me later this month. Meanwhile, the Ombudsman's independent investigation is also underway. I hope the results can be made public soon.
In addition to these focussed investigations, the government-appointed Construction Industry Review Committee, chaired by the Honourable Henry Tang, is making progress in its deliberations to improve the quality, safety and efficiency of the construction industry as a whole. The Committee's report will be completed by the end of next month. As several investigations are now underway, I agree with those Members who feel that it is not necessary to set up a Select Committee of this Council to conduct further investigation similar to those already completed or near to completion.
Housing needs of elderly and non-elderly singletons
Finally, Madam President, I would like to say a few words about the housing needs of the elderly. As everyone knows, we have been taking care of the housing needs of various sectors of the community, and we have paid special attention to the housing needs of the low-income elderly. I am grateful to Members who have acknowledged and supported our efforts in this area. As a result, about 60 per cent of the elderly are now living in public housing flats. As a further measure, the Chief Executive has pledged in his Policy Address this year that public rental flats will be offered before the end of 2003 to the low income elderly who meet the eligibility criteria and who have submitted their applications before the end of March 2001. This is a significant step by the Government to improve the present position. At present, there are already six Information Centres run by the Housing Department to provide housing service to elderly people. The Housing Department and other Government Departments will shortly take proactive measures to encourage the elderly who have housing needs to register on the public housing Waiting List. In the meantime, we will examine in 2001 the feasibility of providing rental subsidies in lieu of allocation of public rental flats to eligible elderly applicants. This will widen their choice of public housing assistance. We will consider whether rental subsidies would be a cost-effective alternative to satisfying the housing needs of the elderly.
We are also conscious of the housing needs of low-income non-elderly singletons. In the past year, we have offered assistance to them through the provision of public rental housing, subsidised home ownership flats and loans for the purchase of flats in the private sector. Having reviewed the situation, we intend to increase the loan quota for eligible non-elderly singletons under the Home Starter Loan Scheme, and will seek the approval of the Finance Committee of this Council soon. I thank those Members who support this proposal.
To conclude, Madam President, the Government has formulated a clear, comprehensive housing strategy with a number of focussed measures for long term housing development to benefit the people of Hong Kong. We must not be complacent or remain stagnant. We have devised new measures this year to respond to new problems. We will build on our success and continue to provide better housing for all. I ask Members and our community to render us continued support.
Thank you, Madam President.
End/Wednesday, November 1, 2000