Families with elderly to jump queue
Families who have parents or grandparents living with them will be allowed to jump the public housing queue.
The new policy, expected to benefit more than 9,000 families, takes effect immediately.
'To address the housing needs of an increasing elderly population, we have to take proactive and timely steps to put in place a coherent housing policy to promote family care for the elderly,' said Chan Kam-man, chairman of the Housing Authority's rental housing committee.
The policy will apply to people who have been in the housing queue for at least two years and have one or more elderly members. They will have their wait cut by three years. The average wait for a flat is 6.5 years.
Families will have to promise to take care of their elderly members for as long as they live in the flat. The Housing Department could evict people who broke their agreement, said Mr Chan.
However, Housing Authority member and legislator-elect Lee Wing-tat warned of abuse.
He said the previous policy had required the elderly person to be the principal tenant.
'If the elderly lose the basic right of being the principal tenant, it will be very difficult to guarantee that they won't be kicked out of the flat.
'I'm aware of 300 to 400 cases where tenants switched to the Home Ownership Scheme.
'Young couples will move in very quickly once the scheme's units are ready, leaving the elderly in the original public flats.
'In these cases, the authority can do nothing but allocate another flat to the elderly person.' Mr Lee said family problems were complicated and it would be difficult for the authority to make a judgment.
'I'm not sure whether it was prompted by the Elderly Commission's decision to restrict the admission criteria to elderly homes. But the authority should be extremely careful in implementing the scheme,' he said.
But former authority member Frederick Fung kin-kee said the policy made sense as the elderly population increased.
The committee also approved a record number of flats for people in the queue for 1998-99. Out of 42,500 flats available for allocation, 17,550 were for waiting list applicants - up 46 per cent on last year.
Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa pledged in his maiden policy address in October that the wait for applicants would be cut to three years by 2005.
The committee also proposed that families with elderly members get priority in buying Home Ownership Scheme and Private Sector Participation Scheme flats.