Migrants and singles face flats delay

A government pledge to cut the waiting time for public housing to three years by 2005 was unlikely to benefit single people or new migrants, legislators heard yesterday.

Housing officials said demand for one-person and two-person units has soared dramatically in recent years.

The elderly must be given priority, the housing panel was told.

There are about 140,000 people on the public rental flat waiting list with an average wait of 6.5 years.

But average waiting time for middle-aged single people and the single elderly is eight years and three years respectively.

Tung Chee-hwa has pledged to cut average waiting time to five years by 2003 and three years by 2005.

Andrew Wells, Deputy Secretary for Housing, said: 'The Housing Authority has been trying very hard to look for small household units at redevelopment sites and new projects to fit in the singles. But these projects won't be complete until 2003 and 2004.' Lau Kai-hung, business director of the Housing Department for allocation and marketing, said the department would seek vacant flats in each public housing estate for single people to shorten the queue.

The three-year pledge will also exclude new immigrants who have to meet the seven-year residency rule to qualify for public housing, even though mainland-born children of residents are considered permanent Hong Kong residents under the Basic Law.

Veteran housing activist Ho Hei-wah, director of the Society for Community Organisation, said the pledge discriminated against those in most urgent need.

'Most of these people are living in the worst living environments such as cage homes and cubicles. The three-year pledge, even if it can be achieved, is a trick if it excludes them,' he said.

He urged housing officials to place such people in a special queue with a pledge tailored specially for them.