Hong Kong housing

Young singles in Hong Kong deprived of basic right to public housing, judicial review hears

Housing Authority says demand too high to speed up the system

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 November, 2016, 5:59pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 November, 2016, 10:36pm

Single Hongkongers are effectively barred from public housing because of a points-based waiting list that puts them in a different queue to everyone else, the High Court heard on Tuesday.

A single person who applies at 18 – the earliest eligible age – would be unlikely to score enough points for subsidised housing before hitting 50, a barrister said during a judicial review hearing.

But the Housing Authority said non-elderly single applicants were actually better off under the existing system.

In the first legal challenge to the housing scheme, which has about 280,000 people in the queue, Cheung Chi-keung, joined by Choi King-fung and Leong Chee-keung, sought a review of the government’s quota and points system for non-elderly single people waiting for public housing. Cheung pulled out of the suit before the hearing.

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Barrister Hectar Pun SC, for Choi and Leong, said the system effectively stripped people like his clients of access to public housing and therefore violated their right to social welfare under Article 36 of the Basic Law.

He said someone who applied at 18 would not score enough points for a flat under the system until reaching 49 or older.

“[A single applicant] may have to wait for 32.5 years,” the barrister said.

Mr Justice Godfrey Lam Wan-ho asked whether it could be proved that any individual’s right had been infringed.

Pun said that the points system had effectively excluded a group of people from the public housing scheme based on age.

But Benjamin Yu SC, for the Housing Authority, disputed that.

“Non-elderly single applicants are not worse off under the quota and points system,” Yu said.

He said the authority refined the system in October 2014 and increased the annual allocation quota from 8 per cent to 10 per cent.

It also gave bonus points to applicants aged 45 or above, he added.

And Yu said there weren’t enough flats to meet the ever-increasing demand.

“The faster you give to one group of people, the slower the rest are allocated the flats,” Yu said.

Concluding his argument, Pun said subsidised public housing was a form of social welfare and that the authority should justify any restriction of access.

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The judge reserved his judgment.

By September this year, there were about 152,500 general applications for public housing, and about 134,000 on the list for non-elderly singles under the quota and points system, according to the authority’s website. The average waiting time for general applicants was 4.5 years.

One of the claimants, Leong, said he applied for a public flat in 2009 and was still waiting.

As a cleaner, he could make about HK$8,000 a month. He said he was sleeping on the street near the Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui.

“I used to live in a [subdivided room] but the rent was too high,” he said outside court.