Public housing tenants protest for immediate rent cut

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 July, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 July, 2003, 12:00am

About 300 people marched to the government headquarters in Central and the Housing Authority in Ho Man Tin yesterday to demand an immediate rent reduction after two public housing tenants won a landmark court case that may force the government to slash the rents of up to 650,000 households.

Carrying banners demanding 'cut our rents as the law says', protesters chanted 'immediately reduce our rents or step down' as one group marched to the Central Government Offices on Lower Albert Road and demanded a meeting with Michael Suen Ming-yeung, Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands.

They also brought a bottle of shampoo and bathing gel for Mr Suen as gesture to relieve his 'itching from head to toe' over the rent saga.

However, Mr Suen, who had expressed regret at the judgment, was not in his office and was unable to receive their petition.

The protesters also demanded the government reimburse the excess rent they have paid during the past three years after Court of First Instance judge Mr Justice Andrew Chung On-tak ruled that the Housing Authority had failed to review rents every three years as stipulated in the Housing Ordinance.

The ruling, which affects more than two million people, means that the government may have to reduce the rents of public housing tenants to less than 10 per cent of their median household income as stated under the law and refund any extra money paid. Some tenants are now paying rents of more than 12 per cent of their income.

The Housing Authority, which has frozen rents since 1998, is expected to lose an estimated $4.87 billion in revenue over the next decade because of the court case.

Mr Suen said the authority was seeking legal advice as the ruling had a 'profound impact' on its rental policy and financial position, adding that the government needed to study the judgment before deciding whether to appeal.

Before leaving government headquarters, the protesters also threatened to either delay paying rents or pay only 70 per cent of their rents if the government refused to act immediately in cutting rents.

Another group of about 200, led by democratic legislator Albert Ho Chun-yan, who represented one of the two victorious tenants in the court case, staged a protest march to the Housing Authority headquarters in Ho Man Tin and demanded that it immediately review its rent policy.

Mr Ho said the government should not waste time over an appeal as it would not be successful, adding that he was seeking legal advice over a court order seeking reimbursement.