New venture, Light Be, helps needy find a room of their own - for cheap

A new firm is linking property owners with a social mission to the poor who need housing

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 February, 2013, 3:44am

A new social venture has come up with an innovative solution to address the housing needs of the city's underprivileged - by meeting them with private resources.

Recently-formed Light Be (Social Realty) Limited has started a "light rooms" project, which aims to provide single-parent families with a home in which they do not have to worry about being kicked out by landlords when they cannot afford the rent or when the property is resumed at short notice for redevelopment.

The light rooms social venture, which is named from the hope that it will work like the process of photosynthesis in which light drives life, will manage at least three rooms, to be rented out to families at an affordable rate or below market prices for up to three years.

The first three rooms is a 500-plus square foot three-bedroom flat in Kwun Tong, where three families have moved in for five months at half the market rental.

Two more light rooms on Hong Kong Island are being renovated for the same purpose.

The venture welcomes property owners to join its course, but the properties must not be subdivided flats and must able to provide up to 75 square feet of floor space per individual.

"Apart from financial gains, property owners could also look for social returns," said Ricky Yu Wai-yip, Light Be's founder and chief executive officer, adding that the thrust of the venture was the belief that a property could become something beyond a monetary investment tool.

Helping to alleviate poverty involves far more than simply offering to fulfil material needs, Yu said.

"Giving them a proper shelter will meet their urgent needs, but equally important is continuous supports to the families."

Years ago, Yu quit his job as a top executive of a direct sales company in order to realise his dream of connecting those in society who can give with those who have to take.

He recalled how visits to the homes of the underprivileged, some of them putting up in subdivided or cubicle flats, changed the way he viewed the world.

"I saw a child lying on the bed with fleas all over his legs and mattress," he said. "We are all living in Hong Kong and we are not poor, so why [did the boy have to live under such conditions]?".

Moved by the venture's mission, Annie Chen Ang-yee, a private investor and a board member of Social Ventures Hong Kong, leased her company's Yau Tong property to Light Be.

"I hope this can become a successful pilot scheme," she said.

The Light Be venture is not a non-profit organisation as it also charges a fee from the rental. But it pledges to donate half of its after-tax proceeds towards poverty alleviation.