Hong Kong housing

Hong Kong welfare groups might be enlisted to run approved cut-price subdivided flats

Housing minister Frank Chan says the scheme can ease the plight of needy families living in poor accommodation and waiting for public flats

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 July, 2017, 9:21pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 July, 2017, 10:42pm

Social welfare groups could be enlisted to operate government-approved subdivided rental flats under a proposed scheme aimed at easing the housing plight of needy families waiting for public accommodation.

The government would help line up charities to fund the conversion of the flats into partitioned units that would be managed by a non-profit organisation. Tenants could expect to pay “at cost” rentals – roughly half the prevailing market rent.

Rents could also be subsidised if they are still unaffordable.

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The initial idea was floated by the new housing minister, Frank Chan Fan, who paid a visit to Sham Shui Po on Sunday to view so-called “coffin” homes for the city’s poorest residents.

Chan, who said he had also lived in a partitioned flat when he was small, said he was “emotionally moved” when he saw the residents’ rundown living conditions.

In one case, the four-member Hung family live in a 100 sq ft room which provides space for dining, working, sitting and sleeping.

The family pays about HK$4,000 a month for the fourth-floor subdivided cubicle. They have two children and have been waiting for a public rental flat for over six years.

Chan said he was particularly worried about how children would develop in such poor conditions. “These kids are the future of Hong Kong. We are obliged to help them and give them hope, so the city has a future,” he said.

This is the first housing initiative floated by Chan, who was previously director of electrical and mechanical services. Concern has been expressed over whether he is the right person to look after the housing portfolio.

Chan said the government would spare no effort in finding land to build public housing but it would take time to build.

“In the short term, we may consider offering some clean, hygienic, safe and relatively more spacious subdivided units that are run by non-profit organisations,” Chan said.

“There is no need to stick to one path or one policy. I think the most important thing is for the government to address the people’s difficulties.”

At present, social enterprise Light Be runs a scheme called Light Home which rents flats from different landlords to sub-rent to the needy, mainly single parent families, at an affordable rent.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has praised the Light Home scheme.

There is no legal definition in Hong Kong of a subdivided flat, but the term is commonly used to describe cases where one apartment is partitioned into two or more self-contained cubicles. Many of the conversions are carried out illegally. They are often the only option for poor families, especially those waiting for public housing.

The number of applicants for public housing rose from 199,600 in July 2012 to about 280,000 in March this year. The average waiting time for a public housing flat was 4.6 years in March, up from 2.7 years in 2012.

Society for Community Organisation director Ho Hei-wah, who invited Chan to Sham Shui Po, said he was pleased the minister had shown determination in tackling housing problems.

Ho said his society had been renting subdivided units in Cheung Sha Wan for about six months. They are leased out for about HK$2,000 a month.

At a public meeting, Chan was bombarded with complaints about the long waiting time for public housing.

While some residents hoped the government could find sites to build temporary housing for those on the waiting list, Chan said this might not be the best use of land resources.

“If we have suitable land for housing, why don’t we use it to build public flats instead of temporary housing?”