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Hong Kong housing

Low-income families in Hong Kong to receive more housing help from government, adviser reveals

Policy adviser to Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor says measures will be announced to help those stuck waiting for public rental housing

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 October, 2018, 9:59pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 October, 2018, 12:25am

Low-income Hongkongers stuck in the queue for public rental flats and living in dismal conditions will get more help from the government, with the city’s leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor set to unveil measures related to transitional housing in her policy address next week.

Bernard Chan, Lam’s top policy adviser, revealed the move on Saturday when he said transitional housing would be a key issue in her speech.

“Transitional housing is a topic of concern citywide. I believe in the chief executive’s policy address, this topic would be a top priority,” he said on Saturday.

The convenor of Hong Kong’s Executive Council said temporary flats were intended to “fill the gap” rather than solve the city’s long-term housing crisis.

Hong Kong is the world’s most expensive property market and the government’s public rental flat programme has not been able to keep pace with demand.

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As of the end of June, there were close to 270,000 applications for public rental housing units, with families forced to wait more than five years and three months on average.

Simultaneously, an estimated 210,000 people live in cramped subdivided units– with a typical living area of around 60sq ft per person – and spend over one-third of their monthly household income on rent, according to government statistics.

So far, NGOs have provided temporary flats with better living conditions, with the government giving support in various other ways.

The Society for Community Organisation is finalising plans to convert three industrial buildings in Kwun Tong for 450 social housing flats that could accommodate up to nearly 1,400 people.

“Each flat, which occupies about 150 to 300 square feet, can house a two or three-member family,” SoCo director Ho Hei-wah said, adding that eligible families could move into the renovated flats in two years’ time.

He said those industrial buildings were owned by companies that supported the idea of social housing but he called on the government to provide a subsidy for renovating the buildings and operating the social housing units in future, as this might cost up to HK$2 million a year.

Last year, the Hong Kong Council of Social Service, with partial funding from the government, launched an affordable shared housing project aiming to supply 500 flats for 1,000 poor households over three years.

They used flats belonging to charitable landlords and rented them out to needy families at below market rates. So far, 138 families are living in shared flats under the scheme.

By the end of the year, there will be a total of 240 of such shared flats. They are expected to stay for between two and three years or until they get a public rental flat.

A development made from prefabricated units is expected to be completed in the fourth quarter next year, on a site in Sham Shui Po owned by Henderson Land Development. It will provide 90 flats for families waiting for public housing.

The HKCSS is also in talks with the government with regard to two pieces of land – one in the New Territories and one in the urban area – for more transitional housing, which could yield at least 300 flats, the organisation’s chief executive Chua Hoi-wai said.

“The total number of units now is just a three-digit figure … our goal is to increase the number to a four-digit figure,” Chua said.

Meanwhile, Polytechnic University’s Jockey Club Design Institute for Social Innovation (JCDISI) has identified five possible sites for transitional housing, yielding about 950 flats.

They are Ma Wan Old Village, two former primary schools in Stanley and Cha Kwo Ling respectively, Old Dairy Farm Staff Quarters in Pok Fu Lam and two sites near the junction of Yen Chow Street West and Tung Chau Street in Sham Shui Po.

Project teams, comprising people from various professions, have proposed ideas on how to develop the sites and the university will select one or two locations and develop them together with interested NGOs.

Lee Wing-tat, chairman of think tank Land Watch, said the government should take a bigger responsibility in helping to provide more transitional social housing.

“The current NGOs that are helping with social housing do not have such experience with housing management, the most they can do is only on a small scale,” Lee said.

“If the government wants to do it on a bigger scale, then authorities need to take the lead,” he said.

The government has faced increasing pressure to provide more affordable housing, but has cited the lack of land as a major obstacle.

A task force appointed by Lam’s administration recently concluded a five month consultation on ways to increase the city’s land supply for residential and economic needs.

But before feedback on 18 potential land creation options is fully collected, the chief executive is expected to, in her policy address, propose land reclamation and the short-term option of using private farmland held by developers in the New Territories to build more flats, especially public rental and subsidised housing.

Additional reporting by Naomi Ng, Tony Cheung and Gary Cheung