Elderly Commission warns city needs more land to house its retirees
Rising costs and inferior services across the border mean many retirees are staying put in HK - even though homes are in short supply
More land will have to be allocated for housing the city's elderly as rising costs across the border make retirement in Guangdong less attractive, the head of the Elderly Commission has warned.
"Guangdong won't be a cheaper place to live in five to 10 years given the rapid rise of living standards," commission chairman Alfred Chan Cheung-ming said.
"Those retiring soon should be given a choice to stay in their beloved city instead of just giving them money to retire on the mainland," he said.
His remarks came as the government consults the public on two related policies; one to cope with problems linked to an ageing population and another on a long-term housing strategy.
The mainland retirement policy referred to by Chan was launched in 1997 and subsidises elderly people who get social security assistance and opt to retire in Guangdong or Fujian .
Participants receive payments of between HK$2,900 and HK$5,000 a month, depending on their health. But the scheme is already becoming less attractive, with the number of recipients living on the mainland dropping from more than 3,000 in 2008 to 2,060 by September this year.
In an interview with the South China Morning Post, Chan, a gerontology specialist at Lingnan University, said services at the mainland retirement villages were often inferior to those in Hong Kong.
"Although some of the new retirement villages in Huidong with a 'Miami Beach' concept look appealing, [facilities] such as food processing and medical services are below Hong Kong standards," he said.
A further challenge would be meeting the needs of the next generation of retirees, who would be very different in terms of education and economic background than the present ones. "Many of them will be more educated, better off and may have been professionals," he said.
Chan said such retirees were not catered for in existing retirement villages provided by the non-profit Housing Society. The society is the second-largest public housing provider after the Housing Authority and so far the only non-governmental group to tackle the retiree problem.
"The society should be given a bigger role in providing housing for the elderly, and it should serve a wider group of people," Chan said. "But it will require more subsidised land from the government."
The society provides two types of elderly friendly flats with medical services and tailor-made recreation facilities.
Two estates of more than 570 flats in Kowloon Bay and Tseung Kwan O are designed to house those whose assets are limited to HK$4 million. Two others of 1,588 units, to be completed next year in North Point and Tin Shui Wai, are to be luxury estates, featuring personalised health care and housekeeping services.
Due to the limited supply, the two types of housing are so popular that the two lower-end projects are already full, with more than 500 on the waiting list. More than 2,000 people have also expressed interest in buying flats in the luxury estates.
But Chan said those retiring soon would not be eligible for the cheaper scheme and could not afford luxury flats. He said providing more subsidised land might be a solution - and it should not be left to profit-oriented developers.
Some developers approached the government for incentives to build flats for the elderly during the economic downturn in 2003. But the plans were dropped when the market rallied, despite a government proposal to award them extra gross floor area.
A Transport and Housing Bureau spokeswoman declined to comment, saying the public would be consulted. A Housing Society spokesman said it was monitoring the need for housing for the city's elderly.