Albert House plan fails to calm owners

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 February, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 February, 2005, 12:00am

But interest-free loan offer to repay $25m is the best scheme, says panel

Albert House flat owners were offered one-year interest-free loans yesterday to repay the $25 million they owe, but the owners said the special scheme - the second proposed this month - would not be of much help.

The 88 owners each have to pay at least $190,000 to the building's biggest landlord, Aberdeen Winner Investment, to refund the compensation it paid after a fatal canopy collapse at the building in 1994.

Under the scheme announced yesterday, the owners can borrow a maximum of $200,000 each from the Housing Society for up to one year.

Those with financial difficulties could apply to extend the term from one to five years, and owners aged 65 or above with no fixed income or other assets would not need to repay their loans until their flats changed hands.

The scheme was introduced by a Home Affairs Bureau panel formed last month to assess the owners' loan applications.

Panel chairman Nelson Chow Wing-sun said it was 'so far the best scheme' offered to the owners.

'I believe it can help the owners a great deal,' he said. 'However, this is not for solving the owners' own financial difficulty. Instead, it's for them to repay the debts as soon as possible to prevent their flats being liquidated.'

Deputy Director for Home Affairs Issac Chow Yiu-nam said the department had drafted a letter asking Winner to apply to the court for a delay in the liquidation process.

The loan application form was also attached and sent to the owners yesterday.

He said owners who wanted to apply for the loan should sign the letter and return it to the department.

Applications close on March 8.

This is the second scheme offered by the Housing Society and the Home Affairs Bureau panel.

The first one, heavily criticised by flat owners after its release last week, was a three-year, $200,000 loan, of which the first $50,000 would be interest-free, while the prime rate would apply to the rest.

But the new proposal has not won over the flat owners. Tsang Wai-chun, who has a flat with her husband and three children, said the scheme could do nothing but delay the debt.

'We still need to repay it at the end,' she said.

Another owner, Alive Law Siu-fong, said the scheme was still way below her expectation.

She criticised the government for not consulting the flat owners before announcing the new scheme.

A Housing Society spokesman said it was too soon to predict the cost to the society of the interest-free loans.