Welfare benefits not enough for rent

Call for policy revamp after study finds most people on housing subsidy have to make up cash shortfall each month for small, subdivided flats

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 July, 2014, 4:09am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 July, 2014, 5:01am

More than half of those who live on welfare payments have to fork out money from their own pockets for rent as the government subsidy they receive is not enough, a survey has found.

The survey, conducted by the CSSA Alliance, also found that more than 70 per cent of the 100 respondents polled were living in subdivided flats.

Their average living area was about 158 sq ft, the study found.

In the survey conducted from early June to July 20, about 56 per cent of the respondents said the government subsidies they received covered only part of their rent and that they had to make up the cash shortfall on their own each month.

Two-thirds of those polled also said that their landlords had increased their rents, some by as much as 29 per cent.

About 28 per cent of the respondents said they were forced to leave their flats because they were evicted by their landlords.

About 3 per cent saw an increase in miscellaneous fees, such as management, installation and renewal fees.

Many of those polled said they could not afford their rent on top of additional miscellaneous charges such as water and electricity bills.

"So bad, so bad, my home is terrible," said Yeung Suan, 56, a tenant living on Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA). "I just can't sleep. Every time I sleep, the bugs wake me up and I can't fall asleep again."

Yeung's windowless apartment in Sham Shui Po is large enough for him only to eat and sleep there.

To escape the summer heat, he frequents air-conditioned shopping malls, convenience stores and restaurants.

"I wish the government would increase subsidies for people like us," said Yeung, adding that he had suffered from heat stroke in past years.

People living alone on CSSA receive a monthly rent subsidy between HK$1,400 and HK$1,600, depending on the location of their flat.

Yeung receives a monthly rent subsidy of HK$1,500.

"The Hong Kong government should revisit the current situation for CSSA tenants renting private housing," said Chan Tai-sing of CSSA Alliance, a group of organisations campaigning for better a welfare system. "The government and the Social Welfare Department already know that over-renting is getting more common. It's not ethical."

Chan Yin-sing, a researcher from the alliance, said: "Yeung's rent rose from HK$1,800 to HK$2,000, excluding additional fees, which are about HK$200."

This means Yeung has to pay a total of HK$2,200 for an apartment that is less than 60 sq ft - about HK$37 per square foot.

"We have found that the smaller the apartment is, the more expensive the rent per square foot," Chan Tai-sing said. "The government really needs to … come up with a renting policy to protect renters as soon as possible."