It’s like winning the lottery. This is the perception of many residents here towards applying for affordable housing, government-subsidised homes for sale. In the last round of affordable home applications in late 2013, over 42,000 applications were received for 1,900 flats; in other words, more than 22 applicants vied for one home.
But what does it mean to win the ‘lucky draw’? In Macau, it means you sometimes still have to wait for more than a decade to collect your prize. In view of a series of mishaps in public works and government planning, three affordable housing projects, comprising 3,170 units, have missed their completion deadlines, further prolonging the waiting time for successful applicants – some of whom applied over 15 years ago before the city had become one of the world’s most famous gambling hubs.
According to Housing Bureau data some 1,900 affordable flats in eight projects across the Macau Peninsula, Taipa and Coloane were available for sale in the second round of applications in late 2013, after the first round for 1,544 one-bedroom units in Seac Pai Van in early 2013. Five years later, however, a total of 1,046 homes in three projects on the Peninsula have yet to be completed as at the time this magazine went to press.
The three projects are Bairro da Ilha Verde Building, providing 345 one-bedroom flats and 44 two-room units for the 2013 applicants; Cheng Tou Building, offering 378 two-bedroom flats; and Fai Ieng Building, with 179 two-room and 100 three-room homes.
The three projects were first scheduled to be finished by 2016 but construction delays moved the deadline to the second quarter of last year. However, Typhoon Hato, the strongest storm to ravage the city in 53 years in end-August last year, causing 10 deaths, severely damaged various project facilities.
‘The storm surge and seawater intrusion caused by Typhoon Hato led to severe flooding on the ground floor and car parks [of the three projects]; most of the electrical equipment was damaged by the flooding and had to be repaired or replaced,’ said the Housing Bureau in a statement. ‘Once the repair works have been completed and occupation permits have been issued, the Housing Bureau will immediately follow up on the process [of allocating homes to successful applicants].’
The latest information from the Bureau reveals that the repair works have been completed, and that the three projects are now undergoing the inspection process that will lead to the issue of occupation permits by the relevant authorities. The Bureau did not say when successful applicants could move in.
Legislator Au Kam San is not surprised at the slow progress of the repair works. “Just like the Border Gate bus terminal, which needs two years for revamp after flooding,” he noted. “It’s simply unbelievable.”
“Some residents applied in 2003 and they have seen their fellow applicants in the same period taking up residence at Alameda da Tranquilidade and Lago Buildings, while they are still waiting for a home,” said legislator Au Kam San. “Assuming they will finally [take up residence] next year, it will have actually taken them like 17 years to own a public house. It’s simply inconceivable.”
Besides the three affordable housing hubs and the Border Gate bus terminal, which will only be fully operational again by the last quarter of 2019, the repair works for other public facilities damaged by Typhoon Hato have also endured a lengthy process. For instance, the public library near Red Market only reopened in July, almost a year after the storm had hit the territory.
“Assuming the occupation permits can be issued soon, coupled with other relevant assessment and administrative procedures, I’m not surprised [successful applicants] for the three affordable housing projects can only take up residence in the first half of next year,” said Mr. Au. “The longer the applicants need to wait to move in the heavier financial pressure they bear.”
Indeed, some applicants have waited for more than a decade. In addition to the 2013 applicants, some 1,967 units in Bairro da Ilha Verde Building and 157 flats in Fai Ieng Building are reserved for candidates who applied for affordable housing in the 2003-2005 period.
Before the major amendments to the affordable housing law in 2011, there was a waiting list for public housing projects, with the government making a well-known pledge in 2007 that it would build 19,000 public homes by 2012 to satisfy the housing needs of those on the list (The 2011 version of the law voided the waiting list mechanism, meaning residents have to apply each time there are new application rounds despite previous attempts).
However, four projects slated to be completed by 2012 -in Ilha Verde, Fai Chi Kei, Toi San and Mong-Ha – could not meet the deadline for various reasons. The Administration has had to put out new projects – Bairro da Ilha Verde Building and Fai Ieng Building – to satisfy those on the 2003-2005 waiting list.
Number of affordable homes reserved in soon-to-be-completed Bairro da Ilha Verde and Fai Ieng Buildings for applicants in the 2003-2005 period
Percentage of successful affordable housing applicants in 2003-2005 period signing formal purchase agreements with gov’t as of this August
“Some residents who applied in 2003 have seen their fellow applicants in the same period take up residence in Alameda da Tranquilidade and Lago Buildings, while they are still waiting for a home,” said Mr. Au, referring to the two affordable housing projects completed in 2011 and 2012. “Assuming they will finally move in next year, it will actually have taken them like 17 years to own a public house. It’s simply inconceivable.”
And more waiting . . .
But that does not mean that all hurdles to taking up residence have been removed – successful applicants still have to sign a formal sale and purchase agreement with the authorities to officially own the units, which might take another few years. The latest information from the Housing Bureau as of early August, excluding the cases of Bairro da Ilha Verde and Fai Ieng Buildings, reveal that of 6,971 households on the 2003-2005 waiting list that have signed pre-sale contracts with the government and moved in, some 6,351 candidates – or about 91.1 per centl – have sealed the final deed. For the remainder, formal agreements have yet to be signed for an array of reasons; namely, candidates did not have all the necessary documents to complete the transactions, they were absent from the procedures or were disqualified due to changes in their household structure, and others, according to the Bureau.
“It is incomprehensible why it took the government so long to ink the formal sale and purchase agreements with the applicants,” complains lawmaker Ella Lei Cheng I. “This serves as a pressure for the [successful applicants], as any changes to the status of members in the household might lead to disqualification [from home ownership].”
The government disqualified the home ownership of some applicants on the 2003-2005 waiting list – albeit they had moved in – when members of the households married and their partners owned other properties in Macau. But the Commission Against Corruption, which also carries the function of Ombudsman here, ratified last year that the home ownership of such candidates could remain unaffected as long as they had signed documents beforehand that their partners would not be counted as one of the members for affordable housing.
Some owners who applied for a one-bedroom unit in Ip Heng Building in Seac Pai Van in the first round of affordable housing application in 2013, taking up residence by mid-2014, complain that the Housing Bureau has yet to sign the formal purchase pacts with them, according to Ms. Lei.
“Based upon past experiences with homeowners [on the 2003-2005 waiting list], she said, “the government should speed up the relevant process for signing the sales contracts with applicants [in the two rounds of 2013 applications].”
“In view of the red hot private property market the demand from residents for public housing will only keep on increasing,” legislator Ella Lei remarks. “The government should also quicken the planning and construction of new affordable housing projects in order to address public demand.”
The Housing Bureau responded that it has ‘gradually’ started procedures to sign the formal sale contracts with successful applicants of the two rounds of 2013 applications. ‘[We are] now formulating a new system for submitting documents electronically, so that [successful applicants] can submit all the required documents for sale agreements more efficiently,’ the Bureau noted, adding it would access the relevant information of applicants through an Intranet of government departments, such as marriage status and property ownership of household members.
‘[We] hope these can shorten the time for document submission and assessment, enhancing the efficiency of the process,’ said the Bureau.
It declined to say, however, when all the pacts could be inked, explaining: ‘Based upon past experience, some applicants have not submitted all the necessary documents for signing the pacts [on time], while some were ready to sign the pacts but did not do so. So [we] don’t have the conditions to set up a detailed timeframe.’
Ms. Lei urged the government to amend the affordable housing law to give a proper timeframe for the relevant procedures.
“In view of the red hot private property market the demand from residents for public housing will only keep on increasing,” she concluded. “The government should also quicken the planning and construction of new affordable housing projects to address public demand.”
Current Status of Affordable Housing Applicants
|First round of 2013||
|Second round of 2013||
[Sources] Housing Bureau, legislators, media reports
New round of application launches next year
There will be a new round of applications for affordable housing in 2019, while amendments to the relevant law will be submitted to the Legislative Assembly this year.
Chief Executive (CE) Fernando Chui Sai On pledged in the latest Q & A session with the legislature in August that the government would re-start the application for affordable homes next year after the last round in late 2013. The change of officials in the government, as he is going to step down in December 2019 following a maximum of two five-year terms, will not affect the planning for public housing, he pledged.
The CE also highlighted that the affordable housing law will be amended again, with a bill to be discussed by the legislature within the year. One of the main changes will be the re-establishment of a points-based system for the allocation of affordable homes, said Mr. Chui.
Prior to the 2011 revision, applicants were allocated points in accordance with their household structure, assets and income of members, as well as whether their members were elderly or handicapped. Affordable homes would then be allocated to those with higher scores. The current allocation method requires all applicants be divided into three groups based upon certain criteria, with homes assigned via lucky draw.
Apart from the reintroduction of the points-based allocation method, society has pressed the government to re-install a waiting list mechanism. Prior to the 2011 amendments, there was a permanent waiting list for affordable housing in general. But the latest revision cancels the waiting list system, with residents having to apply each time the government launches a new round of applications.
Officials have so far been reluctant to re-install the waiting list system given the lack of land supply for affordable housing in the short-to-mid-term, with a long waiting list putting huge political pressure on the government, say political analysts and observers.
For instance, there were about 42,000 applications for the last round of affordable housing in 2013, with over 38,800 accepted following an initial assessment stage; if a waiting list system was re-established, some 38,800 applicants would be waiting list for the Administration to address their housing needs, much more than the 28,000 public homes for sale or rent planned for the newly reclaimed plot A in the future.