Hong Kong concern groups say pilot scheme to help those living in substandard flats pay their rent should be continued

Hong Kong authorities should continue a pilot cash allowance scheme to assist more subdivided flat tenants past its scheduled end next year, concern groups have said, while a lawmaker called for a firm timeline to get rid of substandard homes altogether.

The pressure groups were speaking on Monday, just a day after Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu revealed that the government was looking at potential solutions to the problem of subdivided units before next month’s policy address.

Lee, however, did not outline any of the ideas being considered.

Anthony Chiu Kwok-wai, the executive director of the Federation of Public Housing Estates, said the three-year cash allowance scheme had helped recipients to pay part of the rent for shoebox units, which are notorious for substandard conditions, poor hygiene and safety risks.

A scheme to help subdivided flat tenants pay their rent should be continued as work to build better homes and ease the housing crisis continues, concern groups have said. Photo: Jelly Tse

Chiu said he hoped that the government could turn the scheme into a permanent allowance as better replacement housing is constructed.

“The scheme is ending next year … even if it cannot be turned into a permanent policy, we hope it can be extended for a certain period of time before the housing supply is in place,” Chiu added.

The average waiting time in June for public rented housing was 5.3 years.

The government has enough land to build 360,000 public flats over 10 years, but two-thirds of the homes will only be put on the market in the second half of the time frame.

In a bid to fill the gap in the first five years, Lee’s administration earlier offered to provide 50,000 temporary homes in a bid to fill the gap in the first five years.

Priority was given to families who had been on the waiting list for at least three years.

But only 7,000 transitional flats have been brought into service, with the rest to be completed in stages by 2026-27.

Households who have waited for a public rented home for three years and fulfilled some other requirements can apply for the cash allowance trial scheme, launched in 2021.

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The government had by July handed out HK$3.4 billion (US$435 million) to around 91,000 households.

The allowances range from HK$1,300 to HK$3,900, depending on the size of the household.

Chiu highlighted that the government had reserved about HK$8 billion for the scheme and still had room to extend the scheme.

The Housing Bureau said that the government would carry out a review of the trial scheme at an appropriate time.

Lai Kin-kwok, a senior lecturer at the Caritas Institute of Higher Education and a specialist on subdivided flats, backed Chiu’s suggestion that the cash allowance scheme should continue.

Lai also welcomed measures designed to improve living conditions in subdivided flats, such as refurbishment, but said he had reservations about whether it was fair and effective.

“Such measures become subsidising works for flat owners … Subdivided flats also lack maintenance for a long time. It will be great if their living environment can be improved but they cannot last,” he said.

“The best solution will always be housing people permanently.”

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But Vincent Cheng Wing-shun, a member of the Legislative Council’s housing panel, said the cash allowance was not the best way in the medium to long term as the money would still end up in the pockets of the flat owners.

He suggested that the government should set a timeline and step up enforcement to get rid of the poorest quality subdivided flats.

“We have relevant laws but lack enforcement,” Cheng said.

He highlighted existing rent control laws on subdivided flats and ordinances designed to regulate the structural and fire safety of buildings.

Officials told lawmakers in April that the government had received 1,524 complaints by March about landlords suspected of having contravened a law to protect tenants from major rent increases.

The Landlord and Tenant (Consolidation) (Amendment) Ordinance, which came into force last January, was designed to restrict rent increases on tenancy renewals.

There have been seven convictions under the legislation by August, with the highest penalty a fine of HK$18,700.

But Cheng said the authorities did not give details of the subsidised flat cases that were found to have contravened the Buildings Ordinance at the meeting.


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