Cubicle dweller to seek first judicial review of government rent support

Tenant of 80 square foot cubicle goes to High Court to question why government assistance scheme does not take into account market rates

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 November, 2013, 10:28am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 November, 2013, 10:28am

After three years of renting a cubicle that the welfare rental allowance falls short of covering, Joel Suen Mo is taking the government and the welfare system to court today.

A victory for Suen, 40, may mean a big difference for 11,800 households suffering the burden of high rents across the city.

The recipient of Comprehensive Social Security Assistance has been living in an 80 square foot space that costs HK$1,700 a month - of which his rent allowance covers only HK$1,440.

"Are high rents a huge problem in Hong Kong? Yes. Is the [government subsidy for those on CSSA and renting private housing] enough? We all know that it isn't," said Suen, who slept rough before moving into a cubicle and applying for the assistance scheme.

Under the CSSA plan, a single, able-bodied person aged below 60 receives a standard HK$2,935 a month. Those living in private rental flats are reimbursed up to HK$1,440 in rent allowance.

At the High Court this morning, Suen will seek the first ever judicial review of the rent allowance adjustment system. The system is adjusted based only on inflation, without taking into account private market rates.

Authorities approved adjustments this year and last, but before that the last time revisions were made was in 2003.

If Suen won, the case would be monumental for many in the same boat.

Some 11,800 households receive rent support that only partially offsets the cost of deplorable housing available in the private market, Society for Community Organisation's Angela Lui Yi-shan said.

Hui Kok-wah, for one, is keeping his fingers crossed.

Starting in December, Hui, 48, will be fishing out an extra HK$300 from his tight monthly budget of HK$3,050 - which includes the rent allowance - to continue living in a 30 sq ft cubicle for a recently increased rent of HK$1,700.

That was still considered cheap, he said.

"I'm lucky I have a window," he said of his cubicle, which is one of 10 carved out of the flat. He planned to cut down on his diet of noodles and vegetables, but was unsure for how much longer he could afford it.


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