View of old apartment blocks in Hong Kong.
While the Hong Kong government has partly attributed its housing woes to the city’s hilly terrain, which makes development difficult, a market watcher believes the real problem is the city’s lack of land for housing use.
Only seven percent of Hong Kong’s land was zoned for housing, half of which is occupied by low density rural houses that could not be easily acquired or sold, effectively leaving just 42 sq km for the urban population, reported Channel NewsAsia.
Comparatively, Singapore, which has a smaller population, has zoned 100 sq km for housing as at 2010, with plans to increase it by 30 percent in 20 years.
Hong Kong’s seven percent allocation, on the other hand, has not changed for decades even as more warehouses and farmland has been abandoned.
Professor K W Chau, who chairs the real estate and construction faculty at the University of Hong Kong, said the difficulty in creating more land for housing use is due to a weak government and a vocal population.
“The political climate has changed over the years,” said Chau. “In the colonial days, the government could do whatever they liked without much consultation.
“Now people are more and more aware of their particular rights, it’s more difficult to create more land for housing use.”
Even Hong Kong’s new chief executive Carrie Lam famously said, during her time as the city’s development chief, that Hong Kong depended on land reclamation instead of zoning since “fish won’t go to a protest”.
Noting a lack of community consensus on how to create more land, Lam said: “Everyone’s got a pet subject or a particular view on something.
“One of the first things I plan to do is to have a group of experts from various areas to mount an extensive public debate on where our land should come from,” she said.
Although the plan is admirable, Chau does not expect Lam to succeed.
According to Chau, Lam was too optimistic when she made the fish statement. “It’s not entirely true, because the environmentalists would speak for the fish.”