The government is proposing to raise the income cap used for means-testing low-income families applying to rent public housing by an average 15.6 per cent, making an extra 25,000 households eligible.
About 131,100 households that do not own private flats would be eligible to apply for public rental housing after the proposed increase, sparking calls for the government to build more flats to meet demand.
Secretary for Transport and Housing Eva Cheng said yesterday: 'There are more factors we need to take into account [when adjusting the limits] this year. They include the current macroeconomic situation with anticipated inflation as well as the minimum wage, which will be implemented from May 1.'
She described the adjustment as a 'feasible, practical and timely' arrangement to meet the needs of applicants.
The increase on income limits will be the largest rise for at least 14 years and is set come into effect from April, while an asset cap on applicants is proposed to increase by an average of 3.3 per cent.
For single people, the maximum monthly income would be HK$9,200, up 17.4 per cent from HK$7,832 a year ago, according to a Housing Authority document. The asset cap would be raised 3.2 per cent to HK$193,000.
The government is proposing to raise the monthly household income for a family of four applying for a flat of about 400 sq ft from HK$16,916 to HK$19,537.
They should have assets worth no more than HK$397,000, up from HK$384,000 last year.
The limits are used to determine eligibility for the authority's waiting list and are reviewed and adjusted every year based on housing, consumer prices and a certain amount as contingency provision.
This year it proposes to raise the contingency provision from five per cent of household spending to 15 per cent to 'provide a bigger buffer for low-income families'.
Despite an adjustment that would make more people eligible for the scheme, the minister said the government was confident the waiting time for public rental housing would still be about three years.
'We can still maintain the three-year target in the coming five years ... which is forecast to have an annual production of about 15,000 new public housing flats,' Cheng said.
She said around 260,000 applicants on the waiting list were single people aged 30 or below. About 34 per cent of them were students.
The government is allocating 2,000 flats a year to people who are single but not elderly.
Unionist lawmaker Leung Yiu-chung, a member of the Legislative Council's housing panel, welcomed the government's goal to lift the limits but said such a measure was useless if it did not build more flats to meet demand.
'It'll just give people false hope as it will take a long time to wait to get allocated a flat,' Leung said.
Chung Kim-wah, director of the Centre for Social Policy Studies at Polytechnic University, said the government should increase production to 20,000 flats a year and resume the subsidised Home Ownership Scheme so that wealthier tenants could move out.
The housing panel will discuss the issue on Monday.
Opening the door
The additional number of households eligible to apply for public rental housing under the new proposals: 25,000