Hong Kong housing

Meet the Hong Kong landlords willing to rent properties for 20 to 70 per cent of the market rate

Social enterprise Light Be reveals details of its ‘light village’ project

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 October, 2017, 9:08pm
UPDATED : Monday, 09 October, 2017, 11:13pm

Hong Kong’s first affordable social housing operator has revealed it will introduce a new project for low-income young singles next year to celebrate its fifth year in operation.

Social enterprise Light Be on Monday invited 10 landlords, who have previously remained low profile, to speak about why they were willing to rent their properties to poor families at prices lower than market rates.

The landlords included retirees, entrepreneurs, academics, property developers and business executives, with some buying properties specifically for the enterprise.

“We plan to introduce a different creative social real estate project every year,” company chief executive Ricky Yu Wai-yip said. “This will make up for the [government welfare] system and help those who have fallen through the cracks of the system.”

Yu said the assessment system was likely to be similar to the existing system, where all tenants are referred by social workers.

He added the company had been planning a “light village” project, which would be for the long run.

Founded in 2012, Light Be is now running two projects, with one called “light home” for single mothers and the other called “light housing” for low-income families with three or more members.

It has so far collected 100 flats from charitable landlords to be rented out at prices lower than the market rates, which has benefited more than 550 people.

A light home is usually shared by two or three families, while a light house is for one family.

Yu said the rents were based on what each family could afford and usually ranged between 20 to 70 per cent of the market rate.

Asis Wong Mei-kuen, a 64-year-old retiree, said she and her husband bought a 500 sq ft flat in Tuen Mun for about HK$4 million in 2014, just to rent it out through Light Be.

“I was a social worker before retirement and I saw many people in the communities forced to move out because of rent hikes,” Wong said. “I contacted Light Be because of my work and I wanted to contribute.”

Her husband, 65-year-old retiree Yau Hon-kwong, said he thought she was kidding when she brought up the idea.

“But she kept talking about it and then I realised she was serious,” Yau said. “I didn’t oppose it because I think it’s a safe investment to buy a property in Hong Kong. We never thought of leasing it out in the market because it’s too much trouble for us. Light Be does all the management for us.”

Dr Mamie Lau May-ming, a former principal officer at the Environmental Protection Department, said her late father bought a 700 sq ft flat on the top floor of a walk-up in Kowloon in 1953. Originally a dormitory for the workers at his restaurant on the ground floor, the flat was left empty and unkept after her father passed away in 1998.

After she heard about Light Be in a lecture in 2013, Lau said, she decided to make her own contribution and spent more than HK$400,000 renovating the flat for the enterprise.

“I felt really touched by Light Be’s vision,” she said. “The old and seedy flat can be renovated into a bright and modern one, and broken families can develop a bright future. I hope that happens in this flat.”

The government has intended to promote a social housing movement in Hong Kong this year, with it backing a similar affordable shared living project introduced last month by the Hong Kong Council of Social Service.

The council has also been in discussions with developers about building prefabricated container homes on their sites, with developers showing active engagement.

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said the government would be willing to support the movement through policies such as a quicker approval process and providing subsidies.

He added that the government was open to discussions about using vacant campuses, industrial buildings and government land on short-term leases for affordable prefabricated housing.

“This social movement has started to change the culture,” Cheung said. “With the success of light homes and [the council’s project], the culture has been changing, and it is a good thing.”