New URA boss looks into interim help for tenants of subdivided flats

New urban renewal boss says he will explore ways to help deal with the 'big social problem'

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 June, 2013, 4:19am

Short-term help for tenants of subdivided flats is on the agenda of the new chief of urban renewal as he acknowledged the "big social problem" the housing phenomenon posed.

Options being explored included providing interim housing to people who were ineligible for public flats, said a source close to the Urban Renewal Authority.

New URA chairman Victor So Hing-woh, meeting the media yesterday for the first time, also dismissed public worries that his close ties with developers might result in a conflict of interests.

So said he was aware that some residents affected by URA redevelopment projects had relocated from one subdivided flat to another as they were not eligible to apply for public housing - which requires applicants to be permanent residents.

"[The prevalence of subdivided flats] is a big social problem and it will increase the demand for resettlement in future renewal projects, especially those who cannot queue for a public flat," So said, referring to immigrants who had lived in the city for shorter than seven years.

He declined to say what interim measures he was considering, but said he would discuss with his staff soon.

Under the authority's current policy, tenants who have to make way for redevelopment receive only cash compensation if they do not qualify for public flats.

Late last month, a government-commissioned study estimated more than 171,000 people were residents of partitioned units in old buildings, usually with fire or overcrowding risks, with an average living space of 68 sq ft per person. The government encourages owners of old industrial buildings to convert their space into "transitional accommodation" so as to increase residential supply. The idea of building new interim housing, however, is debatable as it would take away land for permanent flats.

Existing interim housing provided by the Housing Authority does not appeal to working-class people as such flats are located in remote districts like Yuen Long, Kwai Chung and Tuen Mun.

At the URA, So replaces Barry Cheung Chun-yuen, who is embroiled in investigations over the failed Hong Kong Mercantile Exchange. So was executive director of Kerry Properties from 2008 to 2010 and of Sun Hung Kai Properties from 2002 to 2004.

His close ties with developers, which often take part in URA redevelopment, has led to unease.

Yesterday, he said he had worked on only mainland projects during his time with the developers. The authority had stringent rules for selecting its redevelopment partners and the chairman was not involved in making the decision, he said.

He also called his experience with developers an advantage. "If we understand more about their thinking and needs, they would be more confident in investing in our renewal projects."

URA's projects in the next five years are estimated to require a record HK$26 billion, due partly to higher acquisition costs.