Legislative Council Panel on Housing
Meeting on 5 October 1998
Rehousing of bedspace apartment dwellers
This paper informs members of the implementation of the Bedspace Apartments Ordinance and rehousing of the displaced lodgers. It also addresses the issues raised in the two letters dated 10 and 15 September 1998 respectively from the Clerk to Legislative Council Panel on Housing to Government.
2. Bedspace apartments (BSAs) are private dwellings which comprise essentially bedspaces for rent. Most of the BSAs are located in the densely-populated urban areas and have been in existence for many years. The lodgers choose this mode of accommodation mainly due to the convenient locations and the low rentals.
3. Government has been concerned about the living conditions, particularly safety, in the BSAs. It 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 is not to outlaw BSAs or the renting of bedspaces. The policy is to ensure, through legislation, that BSAs meet certain minimum fire and building safety standards. For this purpose, the Bedspace Apartments Ordinance (Chapter 447) (the Ordinance) was enacted in 1994 to provide for a statutory licensing scheme to regulate the building and fire safety of BSAs. The Secretary for Home Affairs is the Authority under the Ordinance and the Office of the Licensing Authority of the Home Affairs Department (the Licensing Authority) implements the licensing scheme.
4. Since the enactment of the Ordinance in 1994, the operators of BSAs were given an exemption period to enable them to register with the Licensing Authority and carry out the necessary improvement works to comply with the Ordinance. The exemption period expired on 30 June 1998.
Licensing of BSAs
5. As at 1 September 1998, there were 63 licensed BSAs, occupied by 1189 lodgers. There were 34 unlicensed BSAs, accommodating 675 lodgers. The Licensing Authority is urging the operators to complete the upgrading works and apply for licences, otherwise enforcement action will be taken. Under section 5 of the Ordinance, any person who operates an unlicensed BSA is liable on conviction to a fine of $100,000 and to imprisonment for two years.
Rehousing of BSA lodgers
6. In implementing the licensing scheme, some lodgers have been displaced as some operators have been unable or unwilling to meet the requisite safety standards and have chosen to reduce the number of bedspaces or cease operation. Government has undertaken that no lodger will be rendered homeless as a result of the implementation of the licensing scheme. The lodgers displaced from the registered BSAs have been assisted with rehousing if they so require.
7. For those displaced lodgers aged over 60 or with medical or health needs, they have been considered by the Social Welfare Department for admission into welfare institutions or public housing estates through compassionate rehousing. SWD has been conducting visits to the registered BSAs on a half-yearly basis. Once an elderly, sick or disabled lodger is identified to be in need of housing assistance, the caseworker of the Family Services Centre will render assistance. Since the enactment of the Ordinance, SWD has so far assisted about 1100 lodgers in rehousing, including compassionate rehousing in public housing estates and admission into welfare institutions.
8. Those displaced lodgers aged under 60 may apply for admission into the singleton hostels operated by the Home Affairs Department (HAD). There are 38 such hostels with a capacity for 534 lodgers. These singleton hostels are all located in the urban areas. A purpose-built multi-storey singleton hostel building in Sham Shui Po, Kowloon with a capacity of 310 has started to admit residents recently. Construction works for another purpose-built singleton hostel building in west Hong Kong Island with a capacity of 270 have just commenced. HAD is actively planning for building similar singleton hostels in Smithfield Road on Hong Kong Island and Bailey Street in Kowloon. The designs for these hostels will conform with the statutory safety requirements. Rooms will be provided either on a single-bed or multi-bed basis.
9. In parallel, SWD also finances some non-government organizations to set up "urban singleton hostels" to provide short term accommodation for, among others, lodgers from BSAs. There are four such hostels each providing 40 spaces. A new hostel in Tsuen Wan will soon be completed. Another three hostels are at the planning stage and are scheduled for completion in 2000 to 2002.
10. In addition to the above channels, any BSA lodger may apply for public housing through the normal channels. Director of Housing has advised that about 200 BSA lodgers will be rehoused each year through the Waiting List or compassionate rehousing.
11. Government is aware that some BSAs are partitioned into cubicles. Government would like to take this opportunity to clarify that the bedspaces within each cubicle are regulated under the Ordinance if the bedspaces are rented out individually. The existence of partitions in the apartment is therefore irrelevant. Government does not intend to propose specific legislation to regulate cubicle apartments (i.e. renting of cubicles rather than bedspaces). The fire and building safety of such apartments (which are essentially private residential premises) is governed by the existing laws, e.g. the Buildings Ordinance and Fire Services Ordinance. The housing needs of those living in cubicles would have no difference from those of the rest of the community who also are in need and are addressed by the public housing programme under the existing channels.
Government's response to the submission from the "Concern Cage House Problem Residents Association"
Comments on the design and management of HAD's singleton hostels
12. Lodgers in HAD's singleton hostels are required to observe some basic rules (e.g. avoid conflicts among lodgers, respect each other, etc). Lodgers are allowed access to the hostels during night hours provided that they do not disturb the other lodgers. Visitors to the singleton hostel at Tak Nga House in Wan Chai are, for security reasons, required to indicate the purpose of their visits and obtain the lodgers' permission before entry. The lodgers are given keys of the entrance doors. We consulted some lodgers about these rules and they generally considered that the rules were reasonable and necessary to maintain peace and harmony amongst the residents. Regarding the supply of singleton hostels on Hong Kong Island, please refer to paragraph 8 above.
Comments on the supply of "Single Person Flats"
13. The Director of Housing has advised that from 1997/98 to 2001/02, the Housing Authority will provide a total of 46,000 single person public rental housing flats, including 30,000 single person elderly units. Among them, 28,500 are committed for redevelopments and clearance operations, and 17,500 for the Waiting List applicants with priority given to the elderly. At present, there are some 19,400 single person applications including 9,100 elderly. As priority is given to elderly persons, the average waiting time is three years for single applicants under the Elderly Priority Schemes. An applicant can normally be housed within two years. For single non-elderly persons, the waiting time is about nine years.
Comments on the procedures for applications for compassionate rehousing
14. The Director of Social Welfare has advised that the process of applications for compassionate rehousing will involve three essential steps as follows -
- collection of the applicant's personal data (financial/social/medical);
- verification and investigation; and
- assessment and recommendation to the Housing Department.
15. The above steps are necessary to make sure that public housing resources are allocated to those who meet the eligibility criteria for compassionate rehousing. The speed of processing the applications depends largely on the co-operation of the applicants in producing the relevant documents. Delays were sometimes caused by the uncooperative attitude of the applicants. To assist the applicants and to facilitate processing, SWD has introduced the following measures -
- an information leaflet (Annex A) on compassionate rehousing advising the purpose, eligibility criteria, where to apply, etc.; and
- invitation letter for interview (Annex B) advising the applicant to produce the necessary documents for verification.
Public housing to BSA lodgers aged 58 and above
16. The Director of Housing has advised that BSA lodgers aged 58 and above may apply for public housing as follows -
- register on the Waiting List for public rental flats;
- register on the Waiting List under the Single Elderly Persons Priority Scheme on condition that they will have reached 60 when allocation is due; or
- two or more related or unrelated elderly persons who agree to live together may apply under the Elderly Persons Priority Scheme.
17. The Housing Department has set up Housing Information Centres in districts with high concentration of old tenement buildings to facilitate people to register on the Waiting List. Staff of the Centres also conduct home visits to the elderly living in old tenement buildings and BSAs to encourage and assist them to apply for public housing.
Singleton hostels for BSA lodgers aged below 58
18. Please refer to paragraphs 8-9 above.
Minimum living standard in BSAs
19. The Bedspace Apartments Ordinance regulates the fire and building safety of BSAs. It does not regulate the lodgers' living areas. Government does not intend to propose legislation to regulate the minimum (or indeed the maximum) living areas of individuals. A person's living area is usually governed by factors such as the market conditions, economy, personal finance and personal choice. Government considers that such regulation, even if it existed, would be difficult, if not impossible, to enforce.
Resettlement of BSA lodgers in the vacant public housing flats and building more "single person flats"
20. Please refer to paragraph 13 above.
Long term rehousing plan for the BSA lodgers without the need to register on the Waiting List
21. Please refer to paragraphs 8 to 10 and 13 above. The Director of Housing has advised that in order to ensure that scarce housing resources are allocated efficiently and equitably to people in need, public rental housing flats are allocated to different rehousing categories in accordance with the prevailing housing policies. BSA lodgers fulfilling the eligibility criteria who wish to be rehoused in public rental flats can register on the Waiting List. Flat allocation will be made according to their order of registration.
Government's response to the Hon LEE Wing-tat's seven questions
(i) Statistics on BSAs
22. As at 1 September 1998, there were 63 licensed BSAs accommodating 1189 lodgers. The Housing Department does not have records on the number of BSA lodgers registered on the Waiting List.
(ii) "Temporary" BSA licence
23. Under the Ordinance, the Licensing Authority may issue licences or certificates of exemption, but not "temporary" licence. Subsequent to the expiry of the exemption period on 30 June 1998, no certificate of exemption has been or will be issued. The 63 BSAs mentioned above possess licences issued under the Ordinance. 39 of these 63 BSAs possess licences with conditions and are occupied by a total of 663 lodgers. The conditions include : removal of unauthorised building works; replacement of fire doors; removal of obstructions along the means of escape; improving lighting and ventilation; providing extra sets of sanitary fitments; widening of passageways; submission of certification on suitability of the electrical installations in the premises. The operators of these BSAs are required to complete the works before they apply for renewal of licences in one year's time.
(iii) Singleton hostels
24. Please refer to paragraphs 8 and 9 above.
(iv) Statistics on single persons on the Waiting List
25. As at 31 March 1998, there were 10,150 single persons aged 60 or above on the Waiting List. In 1997-98, 2,030 elderly persons on the Waiting list were offered public housing.
(v) Construction of single/double person flats by Housing Authority in the next five years
26. From 1997-98 to 2001-02, the Housing Authority will provide 41,000 single or double person flats.
(vi) Unlicensed BSAs
27. As at 1 September 1998, there were 34 unlicensed BSAs with 675 lodgers. Please refer to paragraph 5 above. The displaced lodgers will be assisted in rehousing pursuant to the channels outlined in paragraphs 7-8 above.
(vii) Cubicle apartments
28. Please refer to paragraph 11 above.
29. We will continue to enforce the Bedspace Apartments Ordinance to regulate the safety of BSAs. Lodgers displaced from the registered BSA due to the implementation of the statutory licensing scheme will be assisted with alternative accommodation if they so require under the many existing channels outlined in this paper.
Home Affairs Bureau