Elderly people on public housing waiting lists could be given subsidies to rent homes over the border under an option being considered by the Housing Bureau. The idea, which is at an early stage, would help fulfil Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa's pledge to shorten the waiting time for public housing without building extra flats. Public housing accounts for roughly 16 per cent of the Government's consolidated public spending. A study carried out by the bureau showed that senior citizens living across the border enjoyed lower living costs, a healthier environment and higher-quality housing. The study, presented at the Housing Authority's Rental Housing Committee meeting yesterday, recommended a 'holistic approach to facilitate cross-border housing'. Further studies should be carried out to determine the cost of medical and welfare services for the elderly if they choose to live on the mainland. But committee member Virginia Ip Chiu-ping said the idea was nonsense. 'It serves no purpose except for allowing the Government to build fewer public units for the poor,' said Ms Ip, who added that many members had expressed reservations about pursuing the option. About 56 per cent of 1.02 million elderly people are currently living in low-rent government flats. The bureau has estimated 73,000 flats would have to be built for elderly people from 1999 to 2009 to cope with demand, as the elderly population is expected to grow to 1.6 million in 2016. This week, a report by the Hong Kong Policy Research Institute, a private think-tank, also recommended a so-called 'offshore housing policy', under which public rental flats would be built on the mainland for needy Hong Kong families.