A relief subsidy of up to HK$6,100 will be given to about 900 households living in unsafe or illegally converted subdivided flats in industrial buildings to help them move out, Chief Secretary Stephen Lam Sui-lung announced yesterday.
The HK$4.5 million initiative, to be handed out by a new scheme under the Community Care Fund, would give priority to those living in partitioned flats in industrial buildings, said Lam, who is also chairman of the fund. 'As far as we're concerned the problem in industrial buildings is more acute,' he said.
Lam said the financial aid in the coming year would help about 900 households who faced forced clearance under future Buildings Department projects. The fund would consider expanding the scheme to cover those living in subdivided flats in private residential blocks.
Households will be subject to a means test. Each household will be offered a one-off payment of HK$2,100 to HK$6,100 each, depending on its size, as a removal allowance. Ho Hei-wah, a member of the fund, said the aid would only be a very minor help because the real problem was finding suitable housing, not moving out.
He said the cheapest alternative accommodation, such as a subdivided flat with a toilet in private residential blocks, asked for a rental of HK$3,000 to HK$6,000 a month.
'Ultimately, it's not the fund but housing officials' job to solve the housing problem,' Ho said.
With rocketing property prices and rents, some living on low incomes have chosen subdivided flats - many of which are about the size of a double bed. Subdivided flats are illegal in industrial but not in residential buildings - unless the landlords turn fire escape routes into rental space, alter the building structure without approval and cause water seepage and drainage problems by installing additional toilets.
Meanwhile, the Buildings Department said so-called 'coffin-sized homes' in a Sham Shui Po tenement, which were widely reported in June, were legal.
Worse than sub-divided flats, they are more like bed spaces and stacked on top of each other for up to three levels in a room. The occupants cannot stand or sit inside. The Home Affairs Department said staff had made several inspections and found the flat had fewer than 12 bedspaces - the threshold for becoming a bedspace apartment which needs a licence to operate - and so the case fell outside its remit.
The number of sub-divided units in 12 out of 14 approved flats at the Ma Tau Wai block swept by a fire in June in which four people died