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Hong Kong housing

Alone and desperate, the single Hongkongers left to wait years for public housing

Society for Community Organisation releases survey results to highlight the poor living conditions for singletons, as the group lobbies for the government to shorten the waiting list

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 April, 2018, 10:39pm
UPDATED : Monday, 02 April, 2018, 10:39am

Wong Wai-chu, 56, has spent only a year in Hong Kong’s famously long queue for public rental housing, but the cleaner worries she will be stuck there for another decade.

That is when the divorcee with no children will be over 65, the age when the government fast-tracks applicants like her so they wait only about two years for a flat.

“I don’t want to wait here until then,” Wong said, looking around her 60 sq ft subdivided flat with a single-sized mattress, a cabinet, a toilet and an electric stove top in the city’s poorest district of Sham Shui Po. She rents it for about HK$4,500 a month, or half her monthly wages.

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There are 127,000 single applicants below the age of 65 like Wong in line for a public rental flat, which costs HK$1,880 a month.

They make up 45 per cent of the 282,900 applications currently on the government’s waiting list.

Of the single applicants, 17 per cent, or 21,500 of them, are living alone. The other applicants are living with parents or other relatives.

The plight of those living alone led to a survey by the Society for Community Organisation to highlight their living conditions, as it lobbies for the government to shorten their wait.

Of the 119 individuals surveyed, the majority were aged between 24 and 59 years old, and lived in subdivided cubicles, rooftop slums and cage homes, while some were homeless.

The median size of their living space was 60 square feet and only 15 per cent lived in homes bigger than 100 sq ft.

Of those who had applied for public rental flats, they had already waited an average of five and a half years. But some 16 per cent of them had waited for at least nine years or above.

There are no formal statistics for how long non-elderly singletons are in the queue but Housing Authority figures show families are in the queue for about four years and eight months, while single senior citizens are in the queue for two years and seven months.

Gordon Chick Kui-wai, community organiser of the group, said those who lived alone should be prioritised in the queue as their needs were greater than those of single applicants who had family support.

“The burden is the heaviest among these people. Others who are living with their parents might not have to pay rent, or are students. These people? They have no one to rely on,” Chick said.

Last year, the group failed in its legal bid at the High Court to challenge the government waiting list system for being discriminatory against non-elderly, single people.

Such applicants are put in a separate queue from families and single applicants above the age of 65, and it takes longer for them to move up the queue. Also, as the allocation quota in any year is 10 per cent, meaning if 22,000 flats are assigned to applicants each year, only about 2,200 non-elderly singles would be among them.

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Lawmaker Alice Mak Mei-kuen, who also chairs the Legislative Council’s housing panel, agreed that the government system needed to be reviewed.

“Because these people are not eligible for many social welfare benefits, it’s all the more important that we help with their housing needs,” Mak said.

Indeed, Wong suffers from tennis elbow and tendinitis from her labour-intensive work and says health care bills can pile up.

As she is yet to be 65 years old, she is not eligible for any health care subsidies from the government.

“Last month I spent HK$2,000 alone just going to the doctor. The pain is so bad sometimes I can’t sleep. But if I don’t work there is no one to put food on the table,” Wong said.