The Debate Around Affordable Housing in Hong Kong

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In Hong Kong, all of the land except the site of St John's Cathedral is owned by the Hong Kong SAR Government. Hence, Hong Kong’s Government, by its nature, has full authority to determine the land use and who allow developing the land by providing long-term lease to the land users. (Chiu, 2007) In logical, it should be no doubt that the power of land supply and land using should be totally held in the Hong Kong Government. When the demand of housing market is increasing, the government can provide more land to the market so as to increasing the housing supply and satisfied the housing demand. In fact, the housing price is continuously rising and meets the peak again and again in these recent years, but the government still cannot supply the sufficient land to the market. The housing price is out of the government control. One of the reasons is due to the decision making of land use and land supply has not been already fully owned in the government. Community participation is one of the factors to step-in into the (housing policy formation) and land producing procedure. This paper would focus on how community participation in planning will influence the quantity and quality of affordable housing provided in Hong Kong.

Community Participation

Community participation refers to citizen’s activities which aim at influencing governmental decisions both inside and outside the government-provided channels, including voting and lobbying. Other scholars, such as the “service approach”, community participation refers to many social or group actions should be termed as community participation, as community refers to the former and participation refers to the latter. Nie and Verba’s interpretation further elaborate that community participation refers to different modes which may involve the government’s policies in the most, or deal with mere group interests at least. No matter what the level is, community participation is to achieve goals in aggregate in community level and protect rights of the citizens (Lee, 1995) (Yap, 1989).

Affordable Housing

Affordable housing is a recommended term to meet the needs of a large group of people living in a variety of conditions with low to moderate income. Affordable housing varies among people and in the region. This term refers to the type of housing for groups with low to moderate income. In the United States, the definition of affordable housing, which is a residence that costs no more than 30% of the household's monthly income. The definition indicates that housing is inexpensive, rent and utility costs in apartments or monthly mortgage payments and housing costs for homeowners should be less than 30% of income per Month of household. In Canada, the definition of affordable housing is suitable for the needs of low to moderate income at a lower price than is found in the market. Affordable housing may take many forms that go out on a continuity basis, from emergency accommodation to transitional housing, to non-market rental, to formal and informal rentals, and affordable home ownership. In the UK, affordable housing, including social and intermediate rental housing, are provided for entrepreneurs with specific qualifications that are not according to market demand.

Affordable housing meets the needs of eligible entrepreneurs. These needs include availability at a low enough price for them to buy, considering local revenue and local house prices. Affordable housing, including provisions for homes that will be kept for eligible households in the future. If these restrictions are canceled, any subsidy should be reused to provide affordable housing as an alternative (Chohan, Che-ani, Shar, Awad, Jawaid and Tawil, 2015) (Paris, 2007). To conclude the meaning of affordable housing, affordable housing is not limited by public housing or housing that has received government subsidies for low to medium income groups, it also includes a private residence if the housing fee does not exceed 30% of the monthly income of the household.

Housing Quantity and Quality

According to the dictionary, “quantity” refers to “the amount of something”. Thus, the housing quantity can simply mean for the amount of housing. In general, housing quality refers to the goodness of housing which can bring forth visible or invisible benefits or premium which can be cordially compared to those which are connected with a particular housing environment (Lee, 1995). In UK, the housing quality is the housing design which can delivery of desirable, affordable and high-quality homes and environments that utilize innovative approaches to satisfy needs and help address the aspirations of the occupants and the wider community (Chohan, Che-ani, Shar, Awad, Jawaid and Tawil, 2015).

Hong Kong Land Supply and Land Use Planning System

In modernist planning theory (Rydin, 2007), the mechanism of planning is to collect, discuss, evaluate and compromise in different knowledge and then formation of the final acceptable result by both interest parties. Hong Kong Government, when planning of her new policy, also cannot avoid going through this policy planning mechanism. The interest parties can be involved the specific elites, private sector and the public in different phasing of policy making procedure. Due to involvement from varies parties, it is no doubt that the engagement of multiple opinion is challenging and time consuming. In Hong Kong, the land use and plans planning system process are including the three below hierarchies: These are Territorial Strategic, Sub-regional and District/Local (Chiu, 2006):

Territorial Development Strategy

The Territorial Development Strategy provides a long-term planning framework for the integration of governmental policies on land use, development transport infrastructure and environmental issues. It also states the population criteria of various sub-regions of the land on which infrastructure capabilities are designed. Subsequent changes in the population in the sub-region are therefore limited by the capabilities of the infrastructure.

Sub-Regional Development Strategy

Sub-regional Development Strategy converts the goals of the regional development strategy to the more concrete plan objectives of Hong Kong's five regions (the metropolitan area, the North-east entrance, the North West New Territories, the East-South East New Territories, the South-West new world). Each regional development strategy consists of a series of extensive district plans of development statements that provide a more detailed district planning and framework of work planning. The Broad district plans and statements translate the purpose of regional planning into specific planning objectives and action plans, including the boundaries of the residence for public and private housing development.

Outline Zoning Plan

At the district level, the outline zoning plan shows various legal land uses, such as residential, commercial and green belts, to the regional and road systems covered by the plan. Each schedule includes a memorandum schedule that stipulates the applications that are always permitted and the applications that require permission to plan the city planning committee.

Outline Development Plan / Layout Plan

The Departmental plan includes an outline development and layout plan showing more details of the development proposal, including sites for the development of public and private housing respectively translated from the broad district plan. Once approved by each government's authority, both types of plans are bound to the government and guide the development planning, development management, land sale, government site reservation and distribution.

Rise of Communities Participation

Prior to the 1990s, the decision of land use was formulated by the government, the spatial distribution of residential areas and the strength of their development are the result of consideration by government agencies and planning authorities of the engineering department, transportation, visual impact, land use compatibility, environmental problems, stakeholder views expressed in the legal land use planning process. During this period, the role of land planning is retained only by the government. The government can secure enough land to support the growing economy and population. In other words, the Government role in land planning is more pro-active and controllable by her hand (Chiu, 2006).

During the above period, the conflict of interest when the decision marking on land planning can be explained in mainly come from The Government internal itself. However, the increment of communities’ participation had steadily grown by the political reason since the approaching of 1997. The colonial government insisted to proceed to the localization in the self-administration body in local government before Hong Kong returned to China government. The level of territorial and subregional planning process had been newly set up the Strategic Planning Unit, Land Development Policy Committee and advisory committees which committees were included official and non-official members so as to enhance the self-administration of various public affairs. The government also opened up the administrative structure to public consultation.

In 1991, public consultation was first introduced in the making of a subregional plan in Metroplan. The Metroplan proposal was the first government attempt to formally involve the grassroots level and community groups in strategic plan making. The large-scale reclamation projects along the Victoria Harbour in this proposal were risen controversial discussion and strong objective in the public. This social action was led to establish the Protection of the Harbour and the passing of the Protection of the Harbour Bill. It is the significance historical event in Hong Kong to impact the future reclamation project development and new land supply planning in Hong Kong (Gurran, Gallent, & Chiu, 2016).

In 2002, the Secretary for Planning and Lands, Mr. John Tsang, delivered the message of “community participation in Sustainable Development” in one of public speech. He emphasized that engaging the community is at the heart of our town planning process. The government planning system is organized according to different tiers of geographical specification. The development strategies is including territorial and subregional levels, and statutory and administrative pans outlining broad land uses at the district and local levels (Speech on community participation in Hong Kong, 2002)

According to the Speech on community participation in Hong Kong in 2002, the public consultation process starts when development options are generated. The public consultation fora would be held in conveniently located venues for the public to express their views. For more controversial subjects, separated focus group would be organized to meet the stakeholders. Then, Public Consultation Report would summarize the comments received as well as the Government responses. On a smaller and less formal scale, the government also arrange briefings for individual target groups and standing government and non-government committees on subjects which require special expertise or professional advice.

In addition, Statutory plans are prepared by Town Planning Board. Persons affected by a statutory plan may object during any or all of the exhibition periods, and the objections would be considered for a period of two months and for amendments, three weeks. After considering and hearing the objections, the plan would be submitted together with unwithdrawn objections to the Chief Executive in Council for a final decision.

Moreover, the government have a planning application system under the Town Planning Ordinance which allows for approval by the Town Planning Board for change in uses. The government instigated a practice to collect public views through the established network of District offices which stand in the frontline of or community liaison network. They would provide the District offices with information on specific planning applications together with development parameters, location planning applications. Together with layouts so that those affected would have an opportunity to articulate their concerns (Speech on community participation in Hong Kong, 2002).

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The Impact of community participation in planning to the quantity and quality of affordable housing. According to statistical highlights of the Legislative Council Secretariat 2018, the net increase in land constructed between 2009 and 2016, which showed a sharp decline of 88% from 7,800 hectares in 1993-2000, is only 900 hectares. To a certain extent, this decrease in build-up land was due to a substantial slowdown of the landfill, decreasing by 91% from 2,130 hectares to 202 hectares during the same period. Significant reductions in new land derived from changes in land use (such as land rezoning and resumption) in the last 20 years also contributed.

Also, except the shortage of new land supply from the reclamation method, the government have taken into account of the economic downturn during 1999 to 2002. Land sale was suspended, and land sale was steadily resumed by an application system during 2005-2009. It can be understood that the new land supply in the market within these ten years were very limited.

Unluckily, the outline zoning plans have immediate and legal effects on the interests of and benefits for members of the public since 2005. Given the powerfulness of these plans, the openness and the transparency of the operation of the Town Planning Board have been of concern to the public. The standard planning procedure was up to 9 months including the public consultation process.

In 2012, the new chief executive launched a comprehensive land search across Hong Kong to identify possible development sites and have already been planned at potential locations. These efforts include the use of land for the rezoning, of small-scale development projects and three new large-scale development projects. All these projects have encountered a variety of objections on issues such as access to facilities, local transport and environmental issues to compensate for the resumption of land (Chiu, 2006).

The Case of Rezoning – Wang Chau Public Housing Project

Take one example of Wang Chau Public Housing Project rezoning case. In 2013, the Housing Department studied the construction of a public housing estate on a 33-hectare brownfield in Wang Chau. It is expected to build 17,000 flats. However, the Pingshan Rural Committee, the rural area and even the local people objected to the difficulty of traffic. By the 2014 amendment, the public housing estates will be moved to the green belts and slopes in the south of Wang Chau. The number of units can be reduced to 4,000 and the population will be reduced from 52,000 to 12,300. However, the land affected nearly 400 villagers. The Housing Department did not have any specific resettlement and compensation arrangements. It criticized the government for 'disposing brownfields and destroying green areas.' Eddie Chu Hoi-dick questioned that the government bowed to the rural affairs and businesses, and even more involved the black forces in the New Territories, referring to the 'collusion among the government, private developer and dark society.' (Public housing development plan at Wang Chau, 2016).

On September 21, 2016, the Government held a press conference to disclose more details on the Yuen Long Wang Chau Development Public Housing Scheme. At that time, the Financial Secretary and the Chairman of the Steering Committee on Land Supply, Mr John Tsang, voluntarily clarified that the Wang Chau and Queen’s hill Development Task Forces met at the end of June 2013. The Panel requested the Steering Committee to follow up the Wang Chau Development Project; The meeting was not attended; the Land Supply Steering Committee did not make a decision on the implementation of the phased project. At the same press conference, Leung Chun-ying, the chief executive, said that in order to avoid dragging down the entire plan, on January 27, 2014, he decided to give priority to the development of the first phase of 4,000 units, and requested to postpone the second phase of the housing project. Leung also said that the target of 17,000 units remained unchanged. At the end of the press conference, the beam suddenly choked, saying that he would like to thank the civil servants, and he also pointed out that the construction of the house was 'hard work.'

On May 2, 2017, the Lands Department posted a notice of land resumption to recover a total of 79 private sites involving a land area of about 3.5 hectares to implement the first phase of the development plan. The notice period for land resumption expired on August 3 of the same year. The tenants of the three non-indigenous villages in the district (including: Fung Chi Village, Yeung Uk New Village and Wing Ning Tsuen) requested and the Chief Executive Carrie Lam and the Director of Transportation and Housing Chan Fan requires the placement of the original district. At the same time, it is criticized that the government has not arranged to go upstairs, nor has it provided compensation schemes, and is worried about homelessness.

In mid of 2018, the development of public housing in Wang Chau in Yuen Long has been still in jeopardy. The Government has revealed that the preliminary works of the site have not commenced as scheduled this year. It is expected that the first phase of 4,000 public housing units will not be completed in 2024/25. It is sad that the involvement of communities participation resulted in the standard planning procedure for the development of Wan Chau from normal 9 months to last for over 10 years already.

The Wan Chau Public Housing Project showed the power of the communities participation how to encounter government to develop building affordable housing. Siu Ho Wan reclamation project is picked as the second study case for the impact of community participation in planning of the quantity and quality of affordable housing (Civil Engineering Development Department, 2013).

In 1989, Hong Kong Government issued 'Hong Kong International Airport Core Program' for the development of Siu Ho in the North Lantau New Town scope, including the North Lantau Highway in the northern Siu Ho passing through program, the MTR announced the former Tung Chung line plans to build an Siu Ho Wan Depot, Siu Ho Wan station and upper station property as well. Subsequent environmental conservation and cost reduction through consideration, the Hong Kong government reduced the development scale of the North Lantau New Town. Due to Siu Ho Wan holding on hold, currently there are buildings of MTR Siu Hoi Depot, Bus Factory, Waste Transfer Station, Sewage Treatment Plant, Water Treatment Plant and Food Waste Recycling Center and it is rare residents living in Siu Ho.

In 2003, the Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa announced to develop Siu Ho Wan to become a Logistics Garden so as to support the developed International Airport and the future planning of Kong Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau Bridge. After that, the government conducted feasibility study of Siu Huang Logistics Park, asked stakeholder to submit a statement of intention and consult with the general public. However, a few years later, when government officials responded to the progress of the logistics garden, reaffirmed that the plan is in the research stage. In addition, the Financial Crises in 2008 turned the Logistics Garden in pending status again.

In 2011, the government resumed to study the enhancing land supply strategy on reclamation outside Victoria Harbour and Rock Cavern Development. Siu Ho Wan was included in the study plan again and was proceeded to consult from the general public. The general public replied that most of them agreed to use Siu Ho Wan as Land reserve. The main concern coming from the environmental parties, the reclamation may impact on marine ecology and encroachment of habitats of Chinese White Dolphins. The reclamation at Siu Ho Wan project finally is down size the reclamation scale. However, the development of Siu Ho Wan is continuous pending during the expiration of a term of Leung Chun-ying’s government.

In 2018, the recent Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, launched the “Lantau Tomorrow Vision”, she mentioned that Siu Ho Wan will be conduct small scale reclamation and is to be construct a Community including public and private housing and community facilities through the MTR Siu Ho Wan station surrounding land. The government may consider the factors such as the proportion of public and private housing, transportation facilities, development timetable and participation of MTR companies during the planning of this development (Draft Siu Ho Wan Outline Zoning Plan gazetted, 2018).

In this case, the development of Siu Ho Wan project from the first initiation at 1989 to now 2018, it is nearly 30 years of planning. Comparison with the case of Wan Chau, Siu Ho Wan is one of the less publicly discussed project. However, the development progress of Siu Ho Wan is still vary slow. The reason of slow progress cannot be only blame from the public consultation, it rather is come from the lack of proactive planning from the government. Hence, the impact of community participation in planning to the quantity and quality of affordable housing should be examined on a case by case basis.

The community participation of the above mentioned two cases were mainly focusing on infect of the quantity of housing development. In the following case of Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate (II), the community participation will be more related to how impact of the quality of affordable housing. The Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui Ngau Tau Kok Community Development Center (NTKCDC) commenced the Community Development Service in February 2000 to assist the residents to negotiate with the Housing Authority during the resettlement plans from 2003 to 2004. The residents came to realize that they have the right and indeed the responsibility to express their opinions and preferences to the Authority (Lee, Chu, Ku and Jachna, 2004). This community participation redevelopment progammme has finally changed the new estates design to be more “elderly-friendly community”.

In the past, the design of all flats and community spaces was determined by the experts of the Housing Department. However, once the residents knew the future design, they were able to point out bad and good aspects of the new estate. For instance, they objected to long staircases and sloped pavements and preferred outdoor facilities to be covered. For interior design, the height of the window, the linear kitchen stove, the place for hanging clothes, the size of living area for two elderly residents and the handrails for the handicapped elderly. NTKCDC organized several workshops for the residents to understand the design of their future estate. Thus, the residents can become more aware of their needs related to the design of the flats and the community space. They can give comments on the design and used the responses as a catalyst for further discussion. For instance, one of suggestions was to change the opening mechanism from a hand-operated one to a step-operated one to solve the problem of the dirty handle for discouraging use of the system (Lee, Chu, Ku and Jachna, 2004). The case of Ngau Tai Kok has demonstrated a successful model of participatory community development in Hong Kong’s Context.

The original plan from Housing Department is to build four blocks of public housing units in 39 to 41 storeys, which can provide around 2400 of public rental flats for a population of 6000. However, representatives of the owner committees attended the open meetings of the Sham Shui Po District Council to air their grievances. They collected over 10,000 and over 6,000 signatures respectively from opposing residents in their estates. They claimed that the public housing tower blocks would create a “Wall effect”, “heat island” effect and block the harbor view for the exiting residents.

To response the opposition, Housing department submitted its modified proposal in 2010. The number of housing blocks was reduced to three blocks (33-37 storeys), and the number of rental units was reduced to 2000. Also, there would be provision of one hectare of recreation space on the podium level of the housing blocks, in order to cater for the demand for recreation space. However, this revised proposal was still dissatisfied by the public.

In 2013, Housing Department further revised the estates design in order to increasing the negotiation power to the district councilors. More community facilities was included in the design, such as the provision of several storeys of community facilities, including a wet market and a sports complex which could be used for large-scale performances (Lau, 2017). In this case, community participation is not only affect the development scale (quantity of affordable Housing), but also it can affect the development design (quality of affordable housing).


The Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, chose to launch the “Lantau Tomorrow Vision” in recent policy address instead of stalemated to develop the brownfield site only. As mentioned before, due to involvement from varies parties in land planning, the engagement of multiple opinion is always challenging. The government when planned to rezone the Wang Chau, was facing serious local residents’ objection. In opposite, the outside Victoria harbor reclamation project at Siu Ho Wan was only received the objection from some environmental protection parties. The government was via down size the reclamation scale to compromise with the interest of environmental parties, even though the government finally did not further proceed to the reclamation project at Siu Ho Wan in Leung Chun-ying’s government. It may be provided a hint to the government that the recent government should retain her proactive role to speed up to develop some possible project instead of using huge manpower and time to lobby the local stakeholder. If the government cannot build more new land for development, unless Hong Kong is facing economic downturn. Otherwise, housing price cannot be gone down and become more affordable.

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