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Hong Kong housing

Hong Kong public housing policy still failing low income families

Residents who have been waiting years to get into public housing say system is letting them down

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 November, 2017, 10:47pm
UPDATED : Monday, 06 November, 2017, 11:05am

Seventy-year-old Poon Kang-chiu has been waiting for a public housing rental flat for more than four years, but when he checked last month, the government told him he needed to wait for at least another two years.

To him, the government’s target to assign each eligible family a rental flat in an average of three years is “all talk”.

“If I need to wait for two more years, I would have been waiting twice as long [as the target time],” Poon said.

And he cannot afford to wait.

Renting a 60 sq ft subdivided unit in Sham Shui Po for HK$3,500 a month, the retiree had to take up all sorts of part-time jobs to make a living, earning less than HK$10,000 a month even with the government’s subsidies for the elderly.

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“Fleas, rats and cockroaches are everywhere in my flat,” Poon said. “I cannot even get a good night’s sleep.”

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s policy package, delivered last month, has failed to give him any hope, Poon said.

Lam vowed to boost property ownership among low-income families, shifting the priority from providing more public rental flats to building more subsidised flats for sale.

She later further elaborated that she wanted to turn most of the sites reserved for future rental housing development into subsidised housing estates under the Green Form Subsidised Home Ownership Scheme.

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Under the scheme, current rental housing tenants and those on the waiting list for rental flats, like Poon, are eligible to buy these subsidised housing.

But a pilot project of the scheme – with homes priced at 40 per cent off the market rate – has been criticised as too expensive for the city’s poorest families, because the market rates are already very high.

Poon said it would be impossible for him to afford such a flat. He also worried that it would take even longer for him to get a rental flat under the new policy.

The government has explained that building more subsidised housing will not affect the waiting time, because the same amount of rental flats will be vacated after existing tenants move into their new homes, but Poon said it often took families months or even a year to furnish their new homes and move out.

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Ng Wai-tung, from the non-governmental Society for Community Organisation, urged the government to focus on meeting its promised waiting time first.

He also called on the government to resume rental market control policies to ease the pressure on poor families who needed to rent in the private market.

Separately, the Health Policy Concern Group urged the government to not only increase its funding to the Hospital Authority, but also ensure that the money had not been used to “feed management fat cats”.

The group found that the government funding had increased by 90 per cent from 2006 to last year, and the authority’s workforce also rose by 38 per cent during the period.

But the number of beds at public hospitals only grew by 0.6 per cent.

The Hospital Authority rejected the concern group’s criticisms, saying it has been spending money properly. It also said there were plans to increase more than 200 beds in 2017-18 year.