My Take

It's time to put a stop to public housing abuse in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 January, 2015, 6:38am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 January, 2015, 6:38am

The Ombudsman has rightly castigated officials from the Housing Department and Housing Society for tolerating tenants who take up more than one flat. At a time when the Leung Chun-ying administration is desperate to increase the supply of flats, their negligence in allowing such blatant abuse borders on the criminal.

Some 250,000 applicants currently have to wait an average of more than three years to get public housing. They would justifiably feel bitter about having to pay inflated private rents while living in derelict conditions when some families unfairly enjoy having two publicly-subsidised flats. One of these flats is often leased out to earn extra income.

Officials take years to take back such a flat and claim they have no statistics on how many such cases need to be rectified. One case cited by the Ombudsman took almost a decade to resolve. Imagine how much rent that family was able to collect. And when the Housing Society flat was finally returned, the couple suffered no penalty. When housing officials say they don't have figures on how widespread such abuses are, it means they don't want to deal with the problem because obtaining a number would bring pressure on them to tackle the issue.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to abuse of the public housing system. About 32 per cent of the city's 2.4 million households rent from the government. Some 52 per cent own the homes they live in and 16 per cent rent in the private sector.

Aside from "dual-tenancy" abuse, there are other families which have enough financial assets - including private flat ownership - to disqualify them from continuing public rentals. Yet such cases are also handled at a snail's pace by officials, if at all. Statistics are hard to come by. Again, there is a general reluctance to catch such families and force them to return their public rental flats.

It's surely setting a bad example when "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung, a pan-democratic lawmaker who earns more than HK$100,000 a month with pay and perks, still lives in his public rental flat. His argument is that he does not own enough hard assets to disqualify him. Maybe, but who knows?

But regardless of the technicalities, he should have the decency to give up his flat for a more deserving family.