Albert House loan scheme 'inhuman'
Flat owners say they would get better deal from banks to pay $25m compensation
The Housing Society will set up a special loan scheme for Albert House flat owners so they can repay the landlord $25 million in compensation for a fatal canopy collapse that occurred 10 years ago, the government announced yesterday.
Secretary for Home Affairs Patrick Ho Chi-ping announced the proposed scheme after meeting flat owners at his Central office.
Calling it 'a very special circumstance', Mr Ho said the move showed the government understood the grievances of the public.
But representatives of the flat owners dismissed the proposal as 'inhuman' and said it was simply aimed at making a profit. They said they could get a better deal from a bank.
The owners will meet today to discuss a counter proposal.
Under the Housing Society's proposal, each affected flat owner in the Aberdeen building would be loaned up to $200,000.
No interest will be charged on the first $50,000, but the borrowers will have to pay prime rate for the remainder. They will have up to three years to repay the loans.
Elderly flat owners and those suffering financial hardship may apply for interest-free loans that will not have to be repaid until their flat is sold.
A team comprising three community leaders and two government officials will be set up to assess who qualifies for an interest-free loan.
The proposal does not cover commercial properties or flats owned by companies, meaning the owners of 88 of the 102 units will be eligible to apply.
Liquidation of the corporation that owns the building has begun under a court order.
Isaac Chan Yiu-nam, a deputy director of the Home Affairs Department, said the government would inform the liquidator about the loan proposal to ensure the flat owners had time to repay their debts.
The collapse in 1994 killed one person and injured eight.
The Court of First Instance ruled in November that the flat owners had to pay an additional $25 million to landlord Aberdeen Winner Investment for their share of legal costs, interest and compensation.
The Court of Appeal later upheld the judgment. But the court overturned a previous order and told the landlord to shoulder 90 per cent of the cost of the appeals process.
One flat owner said: 'The proposal is ridiculous.'
She said accepting the proposal would mean each family would have to pay more than $5,000 per month to repay the loan.
'Do they know this is a huge amount for poor families? For us, this is a month's expenses.'
Another, Tsang Wai-chun, said: 'I can't afford the high interest rate and don't have money to repay them in three years.'