Call for Hong Kong government to help provide temporary homes to those in wait for public housing
Study of cheaper ‘light homes’ for single mothers shows earnings boost and lack of dependency among residents
The government should help those offering cheap temporary homes to people waiting for public housing, an academic has said, upon a study finding that people given such a stopgap could earn more, and did not become dependent on cheaper rent.
As of September, waiting times for public housing averaged 4.5 years, and critics have decried the government’s lukewarm response to the idea of giving people on the waiting list some kind of interim arrangement.
A study by Dr Chung Kim-wah from Polytechnic University looked at apartments rented to single mothers and their children, who are referred by a social worker, in a shared house for up to three years at a low cost, or “light homes”.
It found that the average income, including government benefits, of tenants 18 months into their stay was HK$2,660 higher than right before they moved in.
Conducted between 2013 and 2016, the study looked at 39 families before they started staying in the transitional housing and around 20 families 18 months after they moved in.
It also found that the employment rate of the mothers rose to 62 per cent after they stayed in the homes for half a year or longer, compared with just 21 per cent when they first moved in.
Ricky Yu Wai-yip, founder of Light Be, the social enterprise that runs the light home scheme, said: “After getting a secure living space and ensuring their children are settled, these mothers are free to look for jobs without worries.”
Chung, citing results of self-assessment questionnaires, added that the tenants also had significant improvements in other aspects of life, such as their self-esteem, planning for the future, and their satisfaction with their children’s learning and growing environment .
To the suggestion that tenants would choose to just stay in their cheaper homes rather than moving on, Yu pointed out that while the group lets tenants stay for up to three years, more than 60 families had stayed less than two years.
He added that most former tenants – 51 per cent – ended up living with family or friends, because bad relationships had been fixed or they made friends with housemates and decided to continue living together. Only 19 per cent get a public housing flat.
Ah Qing, a new immigrant, said living in a light home in North Point meant she did not have to take on as many jobs as she would have to if renting at market rate, meaning she could spend more time with her daughter.
Ah Wah, in the same building, said that staying in the apartment meant she had “additional family members” in her neighbours. “We help take care of each others’ children,” she said.
Ah Wah added that guidance counselling from Light Be staff had motivated her to take a course in Putonghua to help her get a job.
Dr Chung said: “In addition to the existing housing policy framework, the government can make good use of the creativity and goodwill of people, and should give greater support and flexibility to the organisations and social enterprises.”
Yu proposed the government exempting from property tax landlords willing to rent their properties at below market rate for the scheme, just as tax exemptions are given for charitable donations.