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Hong Kong housing

Hong Kong’s young lament long wait for public housing, as allocation system faces court challenge

Critics say flats should be allocated based on need, not age, but authorities say limited resources do not allow for more detailed assessments of applicants

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 November, 2016, 12:19am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 November, 2016, 12:31am

In his late 30s and jobless, Lee, who would rather go unnamed, is still living with his retired parents in their 120 sq ft home in Yau Ma Tei.

Suffering from psychological problems and a physical disability, Lee, who was wheelchair-bound for years, says he needs more living space to better recover.

“I barely speak to my parents except for quarrelling,” Lee said.

Surviving on a disability allowance of HK$1,650 a month and sometimes small handouts from his parents’ pension, Lee has been waiting a decade for public housing.

Public housing policy shake-up could slash wait times, but there’s bad news for existing tenants

Before an overhaul of the allocation system for the flats came into effect last year which gave priority to older people, Lee was looking at two more years to get a flat, but now may need to wait 18.

At the end of 2014, there were 2,069 non-elderly and single applicants who had been waiting 10 years or longer, according to the latest government figures.

The Society for Community Organisation (Soco), which studies poverty, has applied for a judicial review of the allocation system for non-elderly and single applicants, saying it discriminates against younger people. The case will be heard next Tuesday.

Under the system, applicants are awarded points according to their age. The number of points an applicant holds determines their priority for a flat. Applicants get zero points at the age of 18 but nine points at 19. After that, 12 points are awarded for every year an applicant waits, and on reaching 45 years old a one-off bonus of 60 points is given.

Hong Kong public housing eligibility rules set to be tightened

As of September, the minimum scores needed to secure a flat ranged from 426 to 448 depending on the area. That means new applicants aged 45 will wait about 10 years for a flat while 18 year olds could wait 30 years.

Soco community organiser Richard Tsoi Yiu-cheong said the system had been unfair to younger people genuinely in need. He said the Housing Authority should identify applicants living in sub-standard conditions over a long period of time and allocate flats based on need.

But authority chairman Stanley Wong Yuen-fai said there were not enough resources to personally look into the situation of every applicant.

As of September, there were 134,000 non-elderly and single applicants on the waiting list.

This time authorities must act on public housing abuse

Wong said the authority had been conducting regular surveys among applicants to delist those who had given up on a flat or who had failed to respond to the authority after repeated attempts to make contact. Last year the authority delisted about 13,000 applicants through this exercise, Wong said.

“You may call it discriminatory but the reality is, if both an 18 year old and a 38 year old are qualified for public housing, the upward mobility of the 18 year old will be higher,” he said.

The average waiting time for families and single elderly applicants has now reached 4.5 years. The government’s target was three years. The authority does not keep records of the average waiting time for non-elderly and single applicants.