3 June 1996
LegCo Panel on Housing
Discussion on the proposal of formulating new housing policy for immigrants from China
At the LegCo Sitting on 31 January 1996, Hon LAW Chi-kwong moved a motion urging the Government to expeditiously formulate a comprehensive policy on Chinese immigrants. On 2 May 1996 a Green Paper on policy on Chinese immigrants prepared by Hon LAW Chi-kwong was published. A seminar was then held on 11 May 1996 to exchange views with Government officials and other parties concerned on the Green Paper.
Contacts and communication with those engaged in social service and Chinese immigrants in the past few months show that housing assistance provided by the Government to Chinese immigrants is far from adequate, and improvements can be made in a number of areas. Therefore, apart from analysing the current situation, the Green Paper also makes a few recommendations on housing policies and services. The results of the survey and recommendations as contained in the Green Paper are set out below :
Mr. Ho, Mrs. Ho and their children aged 10, 9, 8 and 31/2 respectively live in a cubicle of about 40 square feet in Sham Shui Po. There are altogether 6 families comprising 16 people in the whole flat which, however, only consists of a bathroom and a kitchen. As a result, they have to take turn to prepare their meal and have a bath. Every day Mrs. Ho has to wait till noon and 7 p.m. in the evening before she could use the kitchen. With no window in the cubicle, lights have to be turned on all the time and it is very stuffy all around. Because of this, and as there are smokers among their neighbours, children fall ill very often. In the whole flat, only the Ho family has children while other tenants are either singletons or adults. Sometimes when the children fight out of mischievousness, other tenants will complain against them. Thus Mrs. Ho worries that her family might be driven away by the landlord. Although she has tried to move twice, she was rejected a lease by other landlords for she has children with her. She has also applied to the Social Welfare Department for compassionate rehousing but to no avail. Her family is now on the Waiting List for public housing.
According to a survey conducted by the International Social Service, Hong Kong Branch in July 1995, most Chinese immigrants live in districts congested with old public housing and private residential buildings like Kwun Tong, Sham Shui Po and Tsuen Wan. Without further information, it is relatively difficult to ascertain the respective number of immigrants living in private housing and those staying in public housing or Temporary Housing Area (THA) units of their families. But wherever they live, their living conditions are far from satisfactory. The survey conducted under the Nam Cheong Central Neighbourhood Level Community Development Project of the Society for Community Organization in September 1995 facilitates our understanding of the situation of Chinese immigrants in old private housing. Among the Chinese immigrant households interviewed, over 80% (83.3%) share a housing unit with others. On average, each household shares a flat with 4.9 households and a Chinese immigrant household consists of 2.9 persons. Half of the Chinese immigrants (50.8%) have a living space of less than 50 square feet1. As a matter of fact, most of them can only afford a cubicle of 40-50 square feet with their low income. They have to share a flat with several households, resulting in crowded and poor living conditions. Moreover, the rent of a cubicle of 50-60 square feet in old districts generally lies between $1,000 and $1,500 a month. This is a heavy burden to Chinese immigrant families.
Those staying in public housing or THA units of their families also face a lot of problems, one of which is the addition of their names to the tenancy. If an immigrant is the spouse or child under 18 of the head of household, addition is normally accepted. But if an immigrant is the daughter-in-law or grandchild, etc. of the head of household, no addition will be allowed. Regarding the case of two or three singletons living together, staff of the Housing Department (HD) said that the regulations concerned were amended a few months ago to the effect that addition of spouse or children under 18 from China is accepted. Even though these Chinese immigrants are no longer illegal residents and possess legal right of accommodation, crowded living conditions remains a problem. A public housing unit originally accommodating one person is now occupied by a family of several people. A flat shared by two single men now becomes the home for two Chinese immigrant families. There is a case where a THA unit of 60 sq.ft. originally occupied by two single men subsequently used to house two families comprising 9 people altogether when both men succeeded in getting their wives and children migrated to Hong Kong 2. It is hard to imagine how crowded their living conditions are. There are only two channels through which their problem of overcrowdedness can be solved. One is to apply for internal/external transfer and the other is to place themselves on the General Waiting List. However, one does not know how long he has to wait for transfer, especially internal transfer which is even more difficult. As for queuing on the General Waiting List, they have to meet the requirement that more than half of their family members have resided in Hong Kong for 7 years or more. In short, immigrants from China who want to have their crowded living conditions improved can do nothing but wait.
Meanwhile, many elderly tenants living alone in public housing units are successful in getting their grown-up children migrated to Hong Kong to live with them. However, as their children are over 18, it is not possible to add their names to the tenancy. Once married they have to move out of the public housing unit leaving their old parents behind. Not only are these immigrants unable to solve their own housing problems, they also fail to take care of their old parents.
Immigrants in private housing who want to improve living conditions can only pin their hopes on public housing. Yet, it is nothing easy to move into public housing. The prerequisite is to have more than half of their family members resided in Hong Kong for 7 years. Under normal circumstances, even though they do not meet such a residence requirement, they may still queue for allocation of public housing. When it comes to their turn, HD staff will meet and tell them when they will be allocated a public housing unit. Before official allocation of a flat, they will be interviewed again for vetting their eligibility. If all procedures are followed, they will have to wait for at least 7 years before being allocated a flat. Therefore, their urgent housing needs cannot be met within a short period of time. Besides, many Chinese immigrants are not sure about their rights to apply for public housing. They submit applications only when they meet the 7-year residence requirement. As a result, they have to wait in vain for a few years more.
It is truly inhumane for Chinese immigrants to live under such poor circumstances for a long period of time. After all they are legal citizens. Moreover, it is doubtful as to why HD has to use the 7-year residence requirement as a criterion for entitlement to public housing. To tell the truth, this is just a result of the Government's reluctance to allocate resources in solving the problem of public housing shortage. As Hon LEE Wing-tat pointed out in the LegCo debate, if the Government have had fulfilled its pledge made in the 1987 Long Term Housing Strategy (LTHS) to allocate public housing units to all Waiting List applicants by 1997, it is believed that the housing need of Chinese immigrants would have been met in an easier way. Unfortunately, the Government fails to do so. As a result, there are still 150000 applicants on the Waiting List.
On the other hand, the Government has refused to admit that mass influx of Chinese immigrants will lead to substantial increase in housing demands. On the day of the Motion Debate, the Secretary for Housing Mr. Dominic S.W. WONG even responded as follows : "Even in the longer term, the fact that a high proportion of the immigrant population consists of dependent children and persons joining their spouses in Hong Kong means that relatively modest additional demand will be generated for separate accommodation"3. In the paper tabled to LegCo at the meeting of the LegCo Panel on Housing on 23 April 1996, the Administration still maintains that immigrants who join their spouses or children who join their parents will not lead to an increase in housing demands. In the face of this kind of logic, it is really doubtful as to how the Government determines the housing demands of Hong Kong. If formation of new families will not give rise to new housing demands, then what will be the quantity of newly arising housing need? With the Government acting in such a manner, it is truly doubtful if the LTHS Review Steering Group led by the Secretary for Housing could make objective assessment on Chinese immigrants' demand for public rental housing. Furthermore, as the Government has hinted that there will be a reduction in the supply of public rental housing units in future, Chinese immigrants will have to wait for a even longer time before they can be allocated a flat.
It is an unknown to Chinese immigrants as to when they will be allocated public housing units and how long they will have to wait for transfer. Meanwhile, they have no idea at all as to how long they will have to stay in their overcrowded living environment. Overcrowded living conditions will give rise to a number of problems such as discord among family members and conflicts between neighbours, etc., while family and youth problems are prone to come up as well. In fact, many Chinese immigrants realize that their living conditions are too bad indeed. They would rather move to THA with inadequate facilities and in remote areas so that their children could grow up in a better environment. However, under existing policies, THA units are only provided for squatter clearees and it is impossible for other people to move in. If the criteria for allocation of THA units are relaxed, many Chinese immigrants are likely to apply.
1. The Secretary for Housing should include the issue of housing demand of Chinese immigrants into the LTHS.
2. Since it requires years to wait for allocation of public housing units, the Housing Authority (HA) should consider and review Chinese immigrants' eligibility for allocation of THA and public housing units.
3. The HA should consider changing the addition policy for grown-up children of elderlies who live alone. As long as the total family income after addition still meets the application criteria for public housing, addition of children's names to the tenancy should be allowed.
4. In handling applications for overcrowding relief or splitting of household, the HD, apart from considering the order of priority, should take into account the seriousness of the overcorwded conditions and give priority to highly overcrowded households.
It is hoped that officials of the Housing Branch and HD and members of the Panel will discuss the above recommendations as well as their feasibility at the meeting.
1 -- Sham Shui Po Nam Cheong Central Neighbourhood Level Community Development Project - Community Survey Report, Society for Community Organization, September 1995, P8
2, 3 -- Speech by the Secretary for Housing, Official Record of Proceedings, 31 January 1996
Last Updated on 20 Aug, 1998