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Carrie Lam's policy address 2018

Set up HK$10 billion fund to build transitional homes for families in search of housing, community groups urge ahead of Hong Kong leader’s policy address

Social housing providers want government to play bigger role in helping those waiting for public flats

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 October, 2018, 12:57pm
UPDATED : Monday, 08 October, 2018, 10:45pm

Social housing providers in Hong Kong are urging the government to take up a bigger role in developing transitional residences for about half a million households in search of a proper place to live, including establishing a designated fund of up to HK$10 billion (US$1.28 billion) for this purpose.

The call was jointly made by Ng Wai-tung, a veteran community organiser from the Society for Community Organisation (SoCO), and Chua Hoi-wai, chief executive of the Hong Kong Council of Social Service (HKCSS), on Monday morning, two days before Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is set to deliver her second policy address.

Bernard Chan, convenor of Lam’s cabinet, said on Sunday that transitional housing was believed to be a “priority among priorities” in the speech.

In her maiden policy address last year, the chief executive rolled out five measures for developing social housing: using idle government premises for rental housing; supporting HKCSS to refurbish old flats and share them among eligible families; allowing owners of subsidised housing to rent out their flats to needy families without paying premiums; exploring the conversion of industrial buildings; and supporting NGOs to build prefabricated houses.

“Currently transitional housing is mainly developed by social welfare organisations, which can deliver no more than 2,000 flats,” Ng said on a radio programme.

“But the supply would be a drop of water in the bucket of demand as there are some 270,000 families in the queue for public housing, with the average waiting time having increased to 5.3 years,” he added.

More than 115,000 households were living in “inadequate housing”, including sub-divided flats, caged homes, bed spaces, cubicle apartments and rooftop structures, according to the latest Long Term Housing Strategy Annual Progress Report released last December.

Mixed report card for Carrie Lam before her Oct 10 policy address

A report in January from the Census and Statistics Department estimated that nearly 210,000 individuals were living in sub-divided flats.

“Development [of transitional housing] is slow if only NGOs are putting in the effort,” Ng said. “In fact, from the search for land, levelling and construction, to seeking approval on building and fire safety, we all need to turn to the government … it would be faster if the government could take up the preparatory work and provide more guidance and fast-track services.”

Chua from HKCSS agreed that officials “should do more”.

“It took the Buildings Department a lot time to complete the examination of the structure and issue approvals,” Chua said, referring to the 90 flats built with prefabricated modules by the society in Sham Shui Po. “Architects and surveyors all said they had never handled such a difficult project because there were too many uncertainties.”

HKCSS, an umbrella group of welfare organisations, has been looking for existing apartments to help achieve its goal of supplying 500 sharing flats within three years. About 150 flats are ready for residents at this stage, and the total number is expected to reach 240 by the end of this year, Chua said.

As one of the participating organisations in HKCSS’s social housing scheme, SoCO has renovated 39 flats in a residential building in Sai Wan, aiming to house up to 44 single- or two-member families who have been waiting for a public housing flat for at least three years.

Both Ng and Chua called on officials to set up a special fund to facilitate and accelerate the development of transitional housing as the city was becoming increasingly starved for living space.

Lam to pledge bigger share of public housing on new land

“We suggest the government put up HK$10 billion in a housing developing fund in order to develop transitional housing on a larger scale and with greater resolution,” Ng said. “The money is also needed for preparatory work, including levelling the land.”

Chua said the fund could start with HK$1 billion.

“But it won’t be sufficient if more projects are started in the future,” he continued. “The average cost for preparing one flat is HK$400,000, which means HK$1 billion can only get a few thousand apartments ready.”

Ng urged officials to consider turning vacated industrial buildings into transitional residences.

“Each building can provide some 200 flats according to our estimation,” he said. “If the government can locate a few or a dozen industrial buildings, it would be a great boost in supply.”