Universities can apply for government loans to convert industrial buildings into student accommodation as an answer to the expected shortfall of 5,000 hostel places by next year, the education authorities have said.
The loans would not be subjected to a cap. Universities would have up to 20 years to repay the money, and would not be charged interest in the first 10 years, the Education Bureau said.
A source close to the bureau said industrial buildings could be chosen for the loan scheme, if universities could identify ones that were readily available for conversion.
Architects said the plan will benefit both students and owners of industrial buildings, but called for rules to regulate the conversion.
William Tseng of the Institute of Architects said the policy provided a good opportunity for universities, especially those located along the East Rail line, Chinese University, City University and Polytechnic University, to settle their students.
Applications for the loans opened early last month and will be considered by an independent vetting committee.
Universities became more crowded this term because of the double intake of first-year students under education reforms that resulted in two groups of exam entrants.
The loan scheme, in place since 2001, helps fund the construction of new buildings or campuses. It is being extended to cover hostel development for universities, after an announcement by Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor in September to relax building and town planning rules to allow the conversion of old private industrial buildings into "transitional accommodation", including hostels, at no extra land premium to the owners.
Architects put forward rules to regulate such conversions, including introducing a licensing system to avoid subdivided flats. They warned that without comprehensive policies on such developments, people could end up living in dim and crowded spaces.
Tseng, who is chairman of an institute task force set up to examine the policy, said the task force had come up with recommendations such as requiring a minimum living space per person of 6.5 square metres, similar to a public flat, which would be submitted to the Development Bureau.
He said that industrial buildings close to Sheung Shui and Fanling stations were now used for storage. Converting them into hostels would be an attractive investment to owners while providing convenient homes for students, especially those who hope to live in lofts, Tseng said.
He said the buildings' owners should be asked to provide green spaces and social facilities such as kindergartens and convenience stores, to improve the industrial district's environment. The Development Bureau declined to comment on the institute's proposal.