Legislative Council Panel on Housing
Bedspace Apartments and the Related IssuesPurpose
This paper provides information requested by Members, and to respond to their concerns on the bedspace apartments (BSAs) and the related issues.
- The Secretary for Home Affairs has advised that the territory-wide survey of unlicensed BSAs conducted by the Home Affairs Department (HAD) aimed at identifying BSAs which have not been registered with the Office of the Licensing Authority of HAD. The results of the survey would assist the Licensing Authority in implementing the statutory licensing scheme under the Bedspace Apartments Ordinance (Cap. 447). HAD plans to complete the survey in March 1999 and the results will be available by April 1999. The survey, however, does not include the personal particulars of lodgers such as their age and eligibility for public housing or welfare institutions' admission.
- HAD will, in the light of the survey results, endeavour to ascertain the size of the BSA population and to plan for acquiring singleton hostels for accommodating those displaced BSA lodgers under the age of 60. The Housing Department (HD) will continue to rehouse all deserving cases recommended by the Social Welfare Department (SWD) through Compassionate Rehousing. It would also encourage those eligible lodgers to register on the Waiting List for public rental housing.
- According to the Secretary for Home Affairs, the Licensing Authority maintains a register of BSAs which come to its attention. HAD/Licensing Authority will incorporate into the register those unlicensed BSAs which surfaced in the survey mentioned above. HAD/HD would strive to monitor the number of BSA lodgers that require rehousing through these channels.
- The Secretary for Home Affairs has advised that the singleton hostel programme of HAD is to accommodate lodgers displaced from the registered BSAs as a result of the implementation of the Bedspace Apartment Ordinance. The singleton hostels are not part of the public housing programme. So far, Home Affairs Bureau (HAB)/HAD have converted 39 private residential premises in urban districts into singleton hostels, which are managed by the Agency for Volunteer Service (AVS), to provide 539 bedspaces for the displaced lodgers. In addition, the first purpose-built singleton hostel, Sunrise House in Sham Shui Po, commenced operation in September 1998 to provide accommodation for another 310 displaced lodgers.
As at 31 January 1999, 200 and 124 ex-BSA lodgers were living in the AVS-managed hostels and Sunrise House respectively, with an overall occupancy rate of about 40%. As the statutory licensing scheme for BSAs came into effect in July 1998, HAB/HAD are still in the process of offering accommodation to the displaced lodgers. They expect a rising rate of occupancy when more displaced lodgers require accommodation. In particular, HAB/HAD will reserve sufficient vacant bedspaces to meet any unforeseen demand for accommodation from the displaced BSA lodgers. Meanwhile, they have been striving to improve the living environment of the existing singleton hostels by installing television sets and improving privacy in the AVS-managed hostels. They also plan to set aside a computer room and a fitness room in Sunrise House in 2000.
Response to Members' suggestions
- The Secretary for Home Affairs has advised that due to the mobility of BSA lodgers, it would be impractical to keep track of all lodgers in the licensed BSAs by a computer register. Further, the Licensing Authority has no authority to ask BSA lodgers for their personal particulars or to disclose whether they have applied for public housing. Thus HAB/HAD considers it inappropriate to collect their personal data in view of the possible infringement of the BSA operators/lodgers' privacy.
Nonetheless, SWD has advised that information on BSA lodgers was collected by its District Social Welfare Offices on a half-yearly basis for following up those lodgers that require welfare services or special attention. The HD also has computerized information on those BSA lodgers who have registered on the Waiting List.
- According to the Secretary for Home Affairs, "cubicle apartment" usually refers to those private residential premises which have been sub-divided or partitioned into several units/rooms for separate occupation. These "cubicle apartments" are normally situated in the old residential buildings or in the residential portions of composite buildings. Since the units/rooms in "cubicle apartments" are for individual selling or letting to different families, they are not covered by the Bedspace Apartments Ordinance which applies to flats in which there are 12 or more bedspaces for rent. HAB/HAD has no information on the number and locations of "cubicle apartments" and have no plan to amend the Bedspace Apartments Ordinance or to propose specific legislation to regulate "cubicle apartments".
The Director of Fire Services recognizes that the fire risks in "cubicle apartments" are greater than those in normal domestic units. He is mindful of the fire risks of "cubicle apartments". He has advised that fire safety in the common parts of such private residential premises are already regulated by the existing Fire Services Ordinance.
- As the BSA lodgers and the persons living in "cubicle apartments" are no different from the other inadequately accommodated people in terms of housing needs, they are required to register on the Waiting List for public housing. The Director of Home Affairs has advised that the singleton hostel programme is specifically designed for accommodating lodgers who are displaced from those BSAs that failed to meet the required standard. Meanwhile, Government will make sure that no one would be rendered homeless as a result of the implementation of the Bedspace Apartments Ordinance.
- SWD has advised that it would endeavour to provide welfare services to meet the needs of BSA lodgers, including the elderly, and to encourage them to accept appropriate rehousing arrangements. However, SWD may not register those lodgers who are unwilling to accept SWD's services and decline to provide their personal particulars. SWD does not consider mandatory registration feasible in view of the possible infringement of privacy of the lodgers.
Information Paper for LegCo Panel on Housing
Bedspace Apartments and Related Issues
To respond to questions and comments raised by Members and other organizations on bedspace apartments (BSA) and related issues.
Reponse to Members' concerns
(a) Measures to prohibit the operation of illegal BSAs
2. The Home Affairs Bureau (HAB) has advised that the Office of the Licensing Authority of Home Affairs Department (HAD) is responsible for implementing the statutory licensing scheme under the Bedspace Apartments Ordinance (Cap.447) (the Ordinance) to regulate the fire safety and building safety of bedspace apartments. The Licensing Authority keeps a register of BSAs which come to its attention. Operators of the BSAs have been urged to comply with the safety standards under the Ordinance and apply for licences to continue operation. So far, the Licensing Authority has issued licences to 67 BSAs (about 1100 lodgers) and is processing one new application.
3. Since the Ordinance came into full effect in July 1998, HAB and HAD have appealed to mutual aid committees, owners' corporations and district personalities to report any suspected illegal BSAs. Meanwhile, HAD is conducting a territory-wide survey of unlicensed BSAs to identify those illegal BSAs. The Licensing Authority would investigate all suspected cases and take follow-up actions whenever necessary. Under the Ordinance, any person who operates, keeps, manages or controls a BSA without licence is liable on conviction to a fine of up to $100,000 and to imprisonment for up to two years. The Licensing Authority will enforce the Ordinance vigorously.
(b) Rents of singleton hostels
4. HAB has advised that HAD now operates 38 open-plan singleton hostels which were converted from private domestic premises. These singleton hostels (managed by Agency for Volunteer Services(AVS)) altogether provide 449 bedspaces to accommodate displaced BSA lodgers aged below 60. The monthly rental of these 38 hostels is $430 per person which is lower than that of most privately run BSAs.
5. In addition, the first purpose-built singleton hostel building, Sunrise House in Sham Shui Po (managed by the Salvation Army on a non-profit-making and self-financing basis), provides 310 single rooms with monthly rentals ranging from $900 to $1400 per person. The higher rental level reflects the improved facilities and larger space enjoyed by the lodgers as well as the higher costs of providing the services. Eligible BSA lodgers are free to choose either the AVS-managed open-plan hostels or the Salvation Army-managed Sunrise House. Those lodgers who are receiving assistance under the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme are entitled to full housing subsidies under the Scheme for HAD's singleton hostels. HAD does not intend to lower the rents of the singleton hostels, otherwise there will be siginificant loss on the part of the managing agencies.
(c) Rehousing displaced lodgers within the same district
6. HAB has advised that all the 39 singleton hostels operated by HAD are located in densely populated urban districts with a high concentration of BSAs. For example, there are 19 (235 bedspaces) and 5 (364 bedspaces) singleton hostels in Yau Ma Tei/Tsimshatsui/Mongkok and Sham Shui Po respectively, which are the areas with the largest estimated numbers of BSA lodgers. Since the full implementation of the Ordinance in July 1998, about 280 eligible lodgers have applied for admission into HAD's singleton hostels. All of them were offered accommodation in hostels within their preferred districts.
7. The Director of Housing has advised that eligible BSA lodgers may apply for public rental housing through Waiting List. He will endeavour to set aside more flats for Waiting List applicants whilst fulfilling the commitments for redevelopment and clearances. To ensure fair and equitable allocation of resources, there will not be priority for any special groups of Waiting List applicants for public rental flats in partcular districts. Notwithstanding this, the Director of Social Welfare has advised that elderly BSA lodgers who have immediate, long term and genuine housing need may qualify for compassionate rehousing. On recommendation of Social Wefare Department (SWD), the Housing Department (HD) would strive to allocate a unit in or near to the applicant's preferred locality to maintain his/her normal support network.
(d) Review of singleton hostels' house rules
8. According to HAB/HAD, the occupancy rate of HAD's singleton hostels is about 40%. As the statutory licensing scheme of BSA came into full effect in July 1998, HAD is in the process of offering accommodation to the displaced lodgers. A rising occupancy rate is expected in the near future. Meanwhile, HAD needs to reserve sufficient bedspaces to meet any unforeseen demand for accommodation from the existing BSA lodgers. Thus the current occupancy rate of HAD's singleton hostels may not be indicative of its popularity.
9. The AVS-managed hostels only require lodgers to observe a set of basic rules (e.g. to respect each other, to refrain from engaging in illegal activities and to treasure the properties of the hostels). HAD does not provide warden service at the AVS-managed hostels and each lodger is given a key of the main entrance door, allowing unrestricted entry to the hostel at all times. Lodgers are expected to exercise self-discipline in enforcing the house rules.
10. The house rules at Sunrise House are basically the same as those of the other hostels. HAD respects the personal habit of individual lodgers. For example, while smoking inside bedroom is prohibited on the grounds of fire safety, HAD allows smoking in designated areas. In fact, prior to its opening in September 1998, HAD had consulted the relevant parties, including the Sham Shui Po Provisional District Board, on the house rules. The Salvation Army also holds regular meetings with the lodgers' representatives to discuss ways to improve the management of the hostel.
11. These basic house are essential to ensure order and security in a hostel occupied by a number of persons unknown to each other. HAB/HAD are mindful of the needs of the lodgers and are striving to improve the living environment of the hostels. For instance, they initiated a scheme in 1998 to install television sets and to improve privacy at the AVS-managed hostels. They also plan to set aside a computer room and a fitness room at Sunrise House in the coming year. To improve privacy, HAD will adopt single room or shared room design in the future singleton hostels, including the High Street project which is under construction.
(e) Basis in deriving income limits for public rental housing application
12. The Director of Housing has advised that the income limits for Waiting List applicants are reviewed annually having regard to housing cost in the private sector and non-housing expeditures of different household sizes. As unit rents for small households are generally higher than those of larger households, differential rents, instead of a single rent, are used for assessing the housing cost of small households. Although housing cost and non-housing expeditures have dropped last year, the Housing Authority has frozen the Waiting List income limits at last year's levels for the current year.
(f) Measures to safeguard residents in cubicle apartments
13. HAB has advised that cubicle apartments are not covered by the Ordinance which will not be amended to regulate such premises. Under the auspices of the Central Steering Committee on Fire Safety chaired by the Secretary for Home Affairs, HAD has an ongoing publicity programme to promote fire safety. Information Services Department is conducting a major publicity campaign on "Fire Safety" in 1998/1999 and is planning another campaign on "Fire Safety and I" in 1999/2000. Fire Services Department has published an information booklet entitled "Fire Prevention in the Home". These efforts will enhance the community's awareness of fire safety and benefit building owners and occupants, including those living in cubicle apartments.
(g) Living conditions of Waiting List applicants
14. We fully recognise our responsibility to provide public rental housing to families in genuine need who cannot afford adequate accommodation of other types. The Chief Executive has pledged that the average waiting time for public rental housing will be reduced from the current six and a half years to three years by 2005. To achieve this, HD has introduced measures such as limiting the pre-emption of flat allocation arising from redevelopment and overcrowding relief; and increasing the supply of new flats.
15. In implementing the residence rule for public rental housing, HD exercises flexibility in dealing with cases genuinely deserving of compassionate rehousing on medical or social grounds, upon the recommendation of the SWD. Applicants for compassionate rehousing are normally required to fulfil the seven year residence rule. However, consideration may be given to waiving this rule in individual cases upon SWD's recommendation.
(h) Single persons' eligibility for subsidized housing loan schemes
16. The Housing Bureau is conducting a comprehensive review of the needs of non-elderly single persons for public rental flats, subsidised home ownership flats and housing loans, and will consider the kind of assistance which can best meet their housing needs. We aim to complete this review by mid-1999.
Response to Society for Community Organization's concerns
(a) Registration of all BSAs and rehousing of all lodgers
17. HAB has advised that BSA lodgers displaced as a result of the implementation of the Ordinance will be offered accommodation. Those aged 60 or above or with medical or health needs may apply to SWD for admission into welfare institutions or public housing estates through compassionate rehousing. Lodgers aged under 60 may apply for admission into the singleton hostels operated by HAD. As the BSA lodgers are no different from the other inadequately accommodated people in terms of housing needs, they are required to register on the Waiting List for public rental housing.
18. Please refer to paragraph 2 and 3 for the regulation of BSAs.
(b) Review of the Bedspace Apartments Ordinance
19. HAB has advised that the Ordinance is to implement a statutory licensing scheme to regulate the fire and building safety of BSAs. It does not regulate the number of lodgers in a BSA or the lodgers' living areas. HAB does not intend to propose legislation to regulate the number of lodgers in a BSA or the minimum (or indeed the maximum) living areas of individuals. A person's living area is usually governed by social-economic factors such as market conditions, economy, personal finance and personal choice. HAB considers that any regulation on living area will be quite impossible to enforce. The housing needs of lodgers in genuine need can be addressed through the public housing programme.
(c) Housing needs of those requiring social rehabilitation
20. The Director of Social Welfare has advised that a wide range of residential and social services would be provided to ex-mentally ill patients and ex-prisoners through halfway house for mentally ill persons (HWH), hostel for ex-prisoners and hostel for single persons operated by subvented non-government organizations (NGOs), if they require a transitional period of residential care. Supported hostel (SH) placement can be arranged for those who have semi-independent living skills, but require a fair degree of assistance from hostel staff. Most of the residents of HWH and SH receive counselling from medical social workers (MSWs), and Family Service Centres (FSCs).
21. For ex-prisioners, SWD subvents the Society for the Rehabilitation of Offenders, Hong Kong to provide aftercase services, including counselling, employment development, community education, recreation programmes and rehousing assistance. As at 31 March, 1999, there were 1,217 places in HWH, 20 in SH and 12 places in hostels for ex-prisioners. Destitute persons with other medical, social and genuine housing needs can also be considered for compassionate rehousing through follow-up casework service by MSWs or FSCs.
22. In addition to the singleton hostels operated by HAD, SWD's subvented and self-financing non-government organizations run a total of 11 temporary shelters/urban hostels to help the homeless and single persons living in BSAs. These urban hostels are situated at places with high concentration of BSAs to provide short term and transitional residential service. Three more such hostels will be set up in Hung Hom, Sheung Wan and Sham Shui Po by 2002. A table showing the existing and planned hostels/temporary shelters for single persons is at Annex.
(d) Improvements in design and lowering of rental of all singleton hostels
23. HAB has advised that the Sunrise House, the first purpose-built singleton hostel building in Shun Ning Road, Sham Shui Po, is of a single-room design to provide privacy. However, some lodgers, particularly the elderly, prefer to have room-mates. Thus, in the longer term, HAD plans to build more purpose-built singleton hostel buildings with either single or shared room design.
24. Please refer to paragraph 4 and 5 for the rental levels of singleton hostels.
Response to Hong Kong People's Council on Public Housing Policy's concerns
(a) Outlawing BSAs
25. HAB has advised that BSAs are private dwellings which comprise essentially bedspaces for rent. HAB is concerned about the living conditions, particularly safety, in the BSAs. HAB recognizes that there is a demand, albeit not large, for this type of low cost and conveniently located accommodation in the community. Therefore, the policy of HAB is to regulate the safety standard of BSAs, but not to outlaw BSAs or the renting of bedspaces.
(b) Housing needs of displaced BSA lodgers
26. The Director of Social Welfare has advised that SWD has joined hand with HAD in rehousing the displaced lodgers. While HAD is responsible for assisting those able-bodied lodgers who are below 60, SWD assists the elderly lodgers with social needs, viz aged 60 or above, in poor health, disabled or with dependent family/children, etc. To further identify needy BSA lodgers and to improve welfare services, SWD will continue to visit all BSAs on a half-yearly basis to identify new needy cases and to offer appropriate welfare services.
27. Please also see paragraph 17.
(c) Compensation to principal tenants of BSAs
28. Since the enactment of the Ordinance in 1994, HAB/HAD have adopted a gradual approach to implement the statutory licensing scheme to regulate the fire and building safety of BSAs. All lodgers displaced have been offered accommodation. HAB does not agree that there is any maladministration or there is a case for compensating the principal tenants affected by the implementation of the licensing scheme.
Response to a group of Wanchai cubicle apartments lodgers' concerns
(a) Regulation of cubicle apartments
29. Please refer to paragraph 13.
(b) Installation of fire fighting equipment by the Government in BSAs
30. HAB has advised that installation of such equipment in private premises is the responsibility of the owners and occupants of the premises. Nevertheless, for the BSAs registered with the Licensing Authority, HAD has implemented a scheme (funded by the Hong Kong Jockey Club) to provide fire fighting equipment to the operators on a loan basis.
31. Please also see paragraph 13 for the publicity work relating to fire safety.
(d) Improvements of living conditions in BSAs
32. HAB has advised that operators of BSAs are required to comply with the building and fire safety and sanitation requirements under the Ordinance. HAB has issued a Code of Practice setting out the technical details for the operators' compliance. Examples are: minimum width of passage ways; adequate means of escape; lighting and ventilation; fire service installations; provisions of sanitary fitments according to the number of lodgers; provision of single bed or double bunks instead of triple bunks, etc. The Code regulates the safety and sanitation in the BSAs.
List of Urban Hostels for Single Persons/Temporary Shelters for Homeless Persons
|Urban Hostels for Single Persons (4 subvented)
|1.Pok Oi Hospital|
Pok Oi Hospital Jockey Club Hostel for Single Persons
|2.Neighbourhood Advice-Action Council|
Jockey Club Lok Fu Hostel for Single Persons
|Wong Tai Sin
|3.St. James' Settlement|
Li Chit Street Single Persons Hostel
|4.The Salvation Army|
Yee On Hostel
|Sham Shui Po
|Temporary Shelters for Homeless Persons
|1.Caritas - Hong Kong|
Mount Davis Hostel for Single Persons (self-financing)
|Central & Western
|2.Missionaries of Charity|
Home of Love (rent and rates subsidy)
|Sham Shui Po
|3.The Salvation Army
(a)Nam Ming Haven for Women (subvented)
|Sham Shui Po
(b)Shun On Hostel (rent and rates subsidy)
|Yau Ma Tei
(c)Chi On Hostel (self-financing)
|Sham Shui Po
|4.Christian Concern for the Homeless Association|
Yan Lam Hostel (rates subsidy)
|Sham Shui Po
|5.Yan Chai Hospital|
Yan Chai Hospital Urban Hostel for Single Persons (self-financing)
|TOTAL = (I) + (II):
List of Planned Urban Hostels for Single Persons
||No. of Planned Hostel
||Target Operation Date
|Sham Shui Po