Compensation offer for tenement residents

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 September, 2010, 12:00am

Residents of a street made famous in an award-winning film are set to become the first people living outside an Urban Renewal Authority project area to be offered compensation by the authority.

The offer will be made to residents of 12 tenements living in Wing Lee Street, Sheung Wan, if the buildings are excluded from the planned Staunton Street redevelopment and preserved for historical reasons.

A change of plan protecting the 12 tenements from redevelopment will be discussed by the Town Planning Board next month.

If it is approved, residents will be able either to move to private flats rent-free for the first six months or get subsidies to refurbish their old flats.

Owners will also be able ask for HK$200,000 subsidies to renovate common areas of their buildings, according to special arrangements announced by the authority yesterday.

The cost of the compensation, never before offered to tenants outside a redevelopment boundary, is estimated at less than HK$10 million.

The project went back to the drawing board in March when the authority and the Development Bureau bowed to public pressure to save all 12 tenements in Wing Lee Street, which forms part of the Staunton Street redevelopment project. Support for preserving the entire street has been growing since a film, Echoes of the Rainbow, partly shot in Wing Lee Street, won a prize at the Berlin film festival in February. The filmmakers said the street was the last of its kind in Hong Kong.

Nine of the 12 tenements would have been demolished under the original plan. The Town Planning Board is expected to hold a meeting next month to discuss whether the street should be excluded from the redevelopment plan. If this happens, the tenements will no longer be considered part of the project.

'You wouldn't see us as generous if you saw the living environment of the tenants,' the authority's chairman, Barry Cheung Chun-yuen, said of the compensation proposal. 'The special measures are designed to improve their living conditions.'

He added that the extra cost was minimal and the authority had to bear its social responsibility.

Half of the 34 flats rented out in Wing Lee Street are partitioned into small units or single bed spaces. The authority has acquired only three of the 12 tenements so far.

Among the measures announced yesterday, tenants will be given three options to choose from if the buildings are preserved. First, they can choose to move to a resettlement block in Des Voeux Road West. They will be asked to sign a two-year rental contract and have the rental of the first six months waived. A flat of 330 square feet will cost HK$1,800 a month, similar to the rent for a public flat. The contract can be renewed if the tenants are not able to find public housing or a private flat long-term.

They will also be given a relocation allowance of HK$7,400 and will get a rebate of six months' rent or 25 per cent of the total rent paid to the authority when they move out of the resettlement block.

Those who choose to stay in Wing Lee Street can apply for a subsidy of HK$40,000 to HK$80,000 to renovate their flats. They will also be given a subsidy equivalent to two months' rent to pay for temporary accommodation while the renovation is done.

Those who opt to move elsewhere will be given a relocation allowance of HK$7,400 and a subsidy ranging from HK$40,000 to HK$80,000 to improve their living environment.

Asked if the plan would set a precedent that would increase the authority's financial burden, lawmaker and its non-executive director, James To Kun-sun, said he had no such worries. 'The tenants have been expecting to move ... since the redevelopment was announced in 1998. I don't think future projects will go back to the drawing board.'