THE Housing Authority has been accused of conspiracy to keep needy families in temporary homes. Housing watchdogs have branded as 'sugar-coated poison' a move to offer better shelters for squatters and evictees. They fear the authority will use the new homes as an excuse to delay rehousing residents in rental property. And they called on the authority to promise residents a time-limit on living in the new class of temporary housing. Formally known as interim housing, the new accommodation evolves from the much-criticised temporary housing area huts - notorious for infestation by rats and rundown conditions - provided for people made homeless by natural disasters or removed by housing clearances and waiting for public rental housing. Most residents have to stay for about 10 years before they can be allocated a public rental flat. The upgraded interim housing, due to be available late next year, will have individual toilets and bathrooms, saving residents from queuing for the facilities as they now have to in temporary housing areas. Hong Kong People's Council on Public Housing Policy chairman Lo Chau said: 'It is good for the authority to upgrade the quality of temporary housing. 'But we have to warn them not to make use of it as an excuse to delay building rental units or it will lead to more protests. 'Residents are hoping to live in decent rental homes. I hope the authority will not make temporary housing an end.' Mr Lo led a petition in a Kowloon Bay temporary housing area during Governor Chris Patten's walkabout in September. It degenerated into violence after protesters tried to hand a rat to Mr Patten. However, the radical protest prompted an urgent review of temporary housing policy. Hong Kong Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood vice-chairman Leung Kwong-cheong added: 'The intention of the authority is very clear. 'The interim housing is not cost-effective at all. Why does the authority not use the money to build more rental units?' The average construction cost of a 20-square-metre interim housing unit for a family of four is $100,000, almost half that of a comparable public rental unit. The new policy also coincides with a plan to keep 13 temporary housing areas built since 1984, to meet the demand from the large number of squatters made homeless in coming years. That will include many new immigrants from the mainland, not eligible for public rental units. The Governor has pledged that by the end of next year all temporary housing areas built before 1984 will be cleared. So far, half the 14 temporary housing areas built before 1984 have been demolished. The remaining seven are expected to be cleared by March next year.