Hong Kong housing

Reservations expressed about Hong Kong government plan for renovated subdivided housing

Council of Social Service says proposal goes against its concept of social housing, which seeks to offer ‘decent’ accommodation to the needy

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 August, 2017, 8:31am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 August, 2017, 8:31am

A leading umbrella organisation for Hong Kong’s welfare groups has expressed reservations about the government idea of funding non-profit bodies to operate authorised subdivided rental flats.

The Hong Kong Council of Social Service, which represents 460 members and is being approached by the government to become a coordinator of welfare groups to operate the subdivided units, said it went against the concept it advocates of “social housing”, which seeks to offer “decent” accommodation to the needy.

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The council’s business director, Anthony Wong Kin-wai, said: “The proposal is still very sketchy. Discussion with the government is under way. If the government thinks we can play a role in its scheme, we shall be pleased to give it due consideration.

“But we are not going to do subdivided flats. We only do decent housing.”

By “decent housing”, Wong said he meant that each tenant could enjoy about seven square metres, proper ventilation, up-to-standard accommodation and fire safety facilities.

“But subdivided flats are not commonly linked with decency in this sense,” Wong added.

Watch: Creating living space for subdivided flat families

There is no legal definition in Hong Kong of a subdivided flat, but the term is commonly used to describe cases where one flat is partitioned into two or more self-contained cubicles.

Many of the conversions are carried out without following legal building or fire safety standards to save costs. But they are often the only option for poor families, especially those waiting for public housing.

The government wants the council to coordinate its plan to enlist welfare groups to operate properly converted subdivided units to be rented to the most needy families on the public housing waiting list.

Hong Kong families wait almost four years for public housing

Some of the 280,000 applicants on the waiting list can wait for as long as eight years for a public housing flat.

One initial idea is that tenants of government-approved subdivided flats will pay “at cost” rentals.

The government may help line up charities or trust funds to manage a HK$100 million fund to finance the renovation and operation of subdivided flats.

The proposal was floated by new housing minister Frank Chan Fan last month after he visited Sham Shui Po to view “coffin” homes for the city’s poorest families.

Critics said the proposal was in effect encouraging the division of flats and urged the government to speed up building public housing instead. But proponents argued that such a transitional arrangement was urgently needed to ease the plight of those living in illegally converted subdivided flats.

Society of Community Organisation director Ho Hei-wah, a keen supporter of the government proposal, said it did not run counter to the council’s strategy.

“Providing inexpensive and better managed subdivided flats is an interim way out. It will be more or less like a share flat. This does not contravene the principle of the council’s ‘co-housing’ transitional social housing’.”

Hong Kong’s poorest squeezed as rents for tiny subdivided flats rise at double rate for other homes

The council is launching a “co-housing, co-living” transitional social service programme in cooperation with the Urban Renewal Authority to provide needy families in Mong Kok with “affordable and decent” accommodation during their wait for public flats.

A total of 14 flats in a Mong Kok block will be made available by the authority under a pilot scheme.

Interested agency members have until August 28 to submit their proposals to the council on how the flats should be managed and how the scheme can be made financially viable.

The programme is said to have received a warm response. Some 40 interested welfare groups attended a briefing on Wednesday.

Ho’s society is also an agency member of Wong’s council. But Ho said it would not participate in the council’s co-housing programme this time.