Hong Kong housing

Keeping the peace in new flat-share plan to help Hong Kong’s poor

Social workers on hand and pre-move meetings arranged to make sure families under one roof don’t clash during start of major housing initiative

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 December, 2017, 5:39pm
UPDATED : Monday, 18 December, 2017, 9:12pm

Some of the first tenants to be housed under a novel flat-sharing scheme in Hong Kong are preparing to move into their new homes, with operators getting ready to address potential conflicts that can arise among families living under the same roof.

More than 100 families are expected to move into 53 renovated apartments in To Kwa Wan by the end of February next year, with others set to get the keys to flats in Kowloon City over the Christmas period.

Measures to ensure household harmony will include meetings between families living together to see if they can get along as flatmates, as well as hiring social workers for domestic diplomacy.

“We would like to integrate more social services into this new mode of public housing to avoid the discord we have often seen among tenants in public housing estates,” director of the Community Housing Movement Ho Chun-kit said on Monday.

Launched by the Hong Kong Council of Social Service in September, the three-year scheme aims to turn 500 empty flats into homes for about 1,000 families waiting to move from the private market to public housing. Rents will be capped at 25 per cent of a family’s monthly income.

Eligible families must be low-income households who have been in the queue for a public flat for more than three years and whose current place is substandard.

By Monday, the council had 408 apartments for the scheme. Of those, 294 had been offered by developers and 114 by individual owners, who will accept rents below market rate. The council had examined more than half of the apartments and found more than 100 suitable for renovation.

Work on the group’s flats in To Kwa Wan – home to the largest cluster under the scheme, with 53 flats in three tenement houses – started on Monday.

Each flat, sized 430 sq ft or 540 sq ft, will be renovated to house five to seven people – or about two families – according to the lowest average living space of 75 sq ft per person stipulated by the Housing Authority for public units.

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Work on the To Kwa Wan flats is estimated to cost about HK$4 million. It will be carried out by Henderson Land Development and the Construction Association, the former charging nothing and the latter taking a nominal fee of HK$1.

By the end of December, the council will choose one to three operators for the To Kwa Wan cluster from four candidate NGOs, to find suitable tenants. The groups will have about two months to find the tenants, before renovation finishes by the end of February.

Ho said the operators must be experienced in running flat-sharing projects, of which matchmaking of future flatmates is a key step.

“Families who are likely to live in the same flat will first meet and learn about each other in the service centres run by the operators, then they will be shown around the unit together,” Ho said.

Gender and personality will be important elements to be considered in the process of pairing, according to Ho.

Ho said: “If one of the [groups of] tenants is a single-parent family, we will try not to pair them up with a complete family. We will also have to see how well the tenants accept co-living, because they will have to share a living room, a kitchen and a toilet in one flat.”

Social workers will be arranged to assist the families once they move into the flats, to mediate potential conflicts and help with getting by on small incomes.

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“Social workers will provide tenants in need with information on community resources, such as low-cost dining halls in their neighbourhood, and with services for better income, such as employment counselling,” Ho said.

Hong Kong is one of the world’s most expensive property markets, with high prices creating long waits for public housing and causing residents to squeeze into small, often substandard, homes.

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Initiated by the government, the flat-sharing movement is an attempt to help people out of those substandard quarters while they wait for public flats. It will be operated by the council with a HK$61.5 million budget, mostly from the Community Chest and partly from the government-run Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development Fund.

The first batch of families to benefit from the scheme are 20 households of three to four people, set to move into 20 renovated units in a tenement house in Kowloon City over the Christmas period. They were chosen from 521 families who applied, by the operator Lok Sin Tong, one of Hong Kong’s oldest charitable organisations.

Another 14 units on Soy Street in Mong Kok, run by St James’ Settlement, will be ready for their new tenants at the end of December or early January.