Arthritis patients set to miss out as charity is hit with huge rent rise

Charity faces cutting therapy for patients in chronic pain or losing its headquarters as Housing Authority insists on market rate

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 July, 2014, 4:41am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 July, 2014, 4:41am

Patients suffering chronic pain due to osteoarthritis face missing out on cheap therapies after a charity was hit with a rent increase of almost 50 per cent by its public-sector landlord.

The Housing Authority says the rent rise is in line with the market value of the office at Nam Shan Estate, Shek Kip Mei, used as a headquarters and training centre by the Hong Kong Arthritis & Rheumatism Foundation.

The 144 square metre site is leased on a commercial basis, but the foundation says sites offered cheaply to welfare groups are in locations inconvenient to patients suffering the often debilitating effects of arthritis.

The charity, which offers inexpensive physiotherapy for patients in chronic pain and funds its activities from donations, says the increase from HK$13,000 to HK$19,000 per month is too much; HK$6,000 would fund therapy for 160 patients, treasurer Chan Kar-lok said.

The new rent kicks in when the charity's three-year lease ends in September, leaving bosses faced with the choice of having to cut back on services or even close the centre, Chan said.

"We are hoping the Housing Authority could readjust the level of increase or consider leasing the site to us as welfare letting," Chan said.

An authority spokesman said the foundation could let premises allocated for welfare groups at a fixed HK$49 per square metre. But Chan said the locations made that impossible.

"Patients with arthritis or rheumatism usually suffer from painful and disfigured joints," Chan said. "Some … may have difficulty walking up stairs."

More than 300 patients are regular visitors to the centre, where physical therapy and training classes are held.

The foundation also subsidises a water exercise class at a public swimming pool to the level of HK$250 for each patient, meaning the patients pay less than HK$100 for the activity.

The centre also hosts gatherings for members of other patients' groups, such as the Hong Kong Ankylosing Spondylitis Association and the Hong Kong Psoriatic Arthritis Association.

Welfare-sector lawmaker Peter Cheung Kwok-che called on the authority to show more flexibility. "The authority should explain why they had to rigidly increase the rent in the first place, knowing the tenant is an NGO. They should be more flexible in offering the site as a welfare letting," he said.

Foundation chairman Dr Chan Tak-hin said its goal was to "offer supplementary therapy to patients", bridging the gap between a public sector that offered little support and expensive private treatment.

Arthritis and rheumatism affect 10 per cent of the city's population, Chan says. The problem is growing not just because the city's population is ageing but also because younger people are falling victim to osteoarthritis.

Set up to build and run public housing, the Housing Authority has long faced accusations of being too focused on the bottom line. The authority has reserves of HK$68 billion, but last month hit public housing tenants with a 10 per cent rent rise as it seeks to raise cash to build more homes.