LegCo Paper No. CB(1) 1424/96-97
(These minutes have been seen
by the Administration)
Ref : CB1/PL/HG/1

LegCo Panel on Housing

Minutes of meeting held on Monday, 3 March 1997, at 10:45 am in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

    Hon LEE Wing-tat (Chairman)
    Hon Frederick FUNG Kin-kee (Deputy Chairman)
    Hon Mrs Selina CHOW, OBE, JP
    Hon Albert CHAN Wai-yip
    Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong
    Hon Fred LI Wah-ming
    Hon Zachary WONG Wai-yin
    Hon CHAN Kam-lam
    Hon CHAN Yuen-han
    Hon CHEUNG Hon-chung
    Hon LEUNG Yiu-chung
    Hon LO Suk-ching
    Hon SIN Chung-kai

Member attending :

    Hon David CHU Yu-lin (Non-Panel Member)
    Dr Hon LAW Cheung-kwok (Non-Panel Member)

Members absent :

    Hon SZETO Wah
    Hon Edward S T HO, OBE, JP
    Hon Ronald ARCULLI, OBE, JP
    Hon James TO Kun-sun
    Dr Hon YEUNG Sum
    Hon CHOY Kan-pui, JP
    Hon Albert HO Chun-yan
    Hon Bruce LIU Sing-lee

Public officers attending :

    Items III and IV

    Mr Parrish NG
    Principal Assistant Secretary for Housing

    Item III

    Mr LAU Kai-hung
    Assistant Director (Regional Management) (1)

    Item IV

    Mr LEE Chun-ho
    Assistant Director (Commercial Properties)

Clerk in attendance :

    Miss Odelia LEUNG
    Chief Assistant Secretary (1)1

Staff in attendance :

    Miss Becky YU
    Senior Assistant Secretary (1)3

The Chairman consulted members on proposals which they might have for overseas duty visits for the months of April, May and June 1997. No proposal was put forward.

I Confirmation of minutes of previous meeting

(LegCo Paper No. CB(1) 955/96-97)

2. The minutes of the meeting held on 13 January 1997 were confirmed.

II Date of next meeting and items for discussion

3. The next meeting would be held on Monday, 7 April 1997, at 10:45 am to discuss the subject of "Reduction in mortgage interest rates for Home Ownership Scheme flats and Home Purchase Loan Scheme flats". Members were requested to inform the LegCo Secretariat should they wish to propose additional items for discussion.

(Post-meeting note: With the concurrence of the Chairman and Hon Fred LI Wah-ming, Chairman of the LegCo Panel on Welfare Services, a joint meeting of the Housing and the Welfare Services Panels had been scheduled for Monday, 7 April 1997, at 10:30 am to continue discussion on the subject of "Public housing tenancies for divorcees". The regular meeting of the Housing Panel would commence at 11:30 am. At the instruction of the Chairman, the item on "Reduction in mortgage interest rates for Home Ownership Scheme flats and Home Purchase Loan Scheme flats" was replaced by two discussion items on "System for the award of construction contracts by the Housing Authority" and "Housing (Amendment) (No.2) Bill 1997".)

III Public housing tenancies for divorcees

(LegCo Paper No. CB(1) 955/96-97)

4. At the invitation of the Chairman, the Assistant Director (Regional Management) (1) (AD/RM(1)) briefly introduced the information paper. He said that in view of the complexity and sensitivity of divorce matters, the Housing Department (HD) had adopted a flexible approach in making housing arrangements for residents of public rental housing (PRH) and subsidized home ownership flats undergoing divorce proceedings, taking into consideration individual circumstances.

5. A member was worried that PRH tenants undergoing divorce proceedings might not be aware of the channels through which such assistance as compassionate rehousing and conditional tenancy (CT) could be obtained. To improve the situation, he suggested that a pamphlet detailing the possible housing arrangements should be made available for distribution to tenants in all PRH estates. Some members considered that HD had not always been effective in offering timely assistance and advice to parties concerned both during the divorce proceedings and after the divorce. For example, separate accommodation was not made available to tenants contemplating a divorce and facing undue hardship, thus rendering them no choice but to continue to stay in the same unit with their partners which sometimes resulted in spouse battering. Moreover, the party awarded with the custody of children might have to wait for a long time after a divorce for recovering possession of the PRH flats if the other party refused to move out. The lack of standardized guidelines on flat recovery for Housing Managers further aggravated the situation. Another member sought clarification on the average time taken to recover PRH flats from tenants who had not been granted the custodial right of children.

6. In response, AD/RM(1) advised that HD generally would not take initiatives to remove either party of a couple undergoing a divorce from the PRH flat concerned as this might create additional problems for the family and reduce the chance for reconciliation. However, an aggrieved party with dependent children who had a genuine need for separate accommodation in public housing estates could apply to the Social Welfare Department for a CT while awaiting the grant of a divorce order and a custodial order on children by the court. To be eligible for a CT, an applicant must provide a bona-fide petition for a divorce or a confirmation on the grant of legal aid for divorce proceedings; and a proof of custody of the children and satisfy the income criterion for applying for public housing. There was no quota for CT and SWD and HD would normally take about ten weeks to process such applications prior to allocation of flats. Requests for external transfer would also be considered subject to the availability of reception flats. 180 and 161 applications for CT had been approved during the fiscal year of 1995/96 and the ensuing months up to January 1997 respectively. AD/RM(1) added that immediate accommodation in such refuge homes as the Wai On House and the Harmony House were readily available to needy persons. In view of the small number of applications for CT against the overall number of divorce cases, members considered it necessary for the Administration to step up publicity in this aspect. AD/RM(1) undertook to consider members’ suggestion but advised that information on housing for divorcees had been made available to tenants through such channels as the newsletters issued by the Housing Authority, relevant mutual aid committees and estate management advisory committees. At members’ request, the Administration undertook to provide information on the number of requests for external transfer and the number of cases granted over the past three years.Admin

7. As regards recovery of PRH flats, AD/RM(1) advised that HD would generally grant the original public rental housing tenancy to the party having custody of children after a divorce. Normally, a one-month Notice-to-Quit would be issued under section 19A of the Housing Ordinance, Cap. 283, to recover possession of the flat should the displaced party refuse to move out. Parties displaced from their matrimonial homes could apply to HD for temporary housing in the New Territories; they could also apply for PRH through the Single Person Waiting List and be given a "credit" in terms of waiting time equivalent to the length of their former tenancies up to a maximum of three years. Members were not convinced of the Administration’s response which had not fully reflected the real situation of a much longer time being taken to recover possession of PRH flats. They asked if consideration could be given to allocating temporary accommodation in urban areas to those displaced parties with a view to encouraging them to move out of the PRH flats. AD/RM(1) attributed the delay in recovery of flats to the time required to handle appeals against eviction. He said that it would not be possible to allocate temporary housing in urban areas as suggested by members having regard to the scarce housing resources. At members’ request, the Administration undertook to provide information on the number of cases over the past three years in which HD had invoked section 19A to evict tenants who refused to move out upon a divorce.

8. A member considered that the existing requirements for submission of Form 6 before granting PRH tenancies might deprive parties with custody of children of the opportunity of early rehousing. He pointed out that even if a separation order had been granted, it would take time for the court to settle the financial matters between the parties concerned which would delay the release of Form 6. Some members were particularly concerned about battered spouses and their children and urged the Administration to make it a standing arrangement to allocate CT or compassionate rehousing to these persons even in the absence of Form 6. AD/RM(1) advised that the requirement for submission of Form 6 was intended to allow sufficient time for reconciliation. He assured members that HD would exercise discretion in exceptional cases which deserved sympathetic consideration.

9. Referring to paragraph 7 of the information paper, some members sought clarification on the sentence "If voluntary agreement cannot be reached by the two parties on who should retain the original public rental tenancy, the Housing Department will generally grant the tenancy to the party having custody of children". They remarked that this should also apply to cases where custody of dependent adults such as mentally retarded adults were involved. AD/RM(1) explained that the sentence in question was included to take account of circumstances where both parties had custody of one or more children as well as those where custody of children was not an issue. In reply to a related question, AD/RM(1) advised that legal new immigrants with custody of children would be granted the original PRH tenancies upon a divorce even if they did not satisfy the seven-year residence rule. He added that where a public rental housing tenancy consisted of other relatives such as mother-in-law, separate housing to the family members concerned would be considered to relieve them from undue hardship. The choice of accommodation would be up to the affected parties. The important point was to ensure that no extra PRH flats would be allocated as a result of divorce of tenants as far as possible to avoid queue jumping.

10. In conclusion, the Chairman remarked that members were not satisfied with the existing housing arrangements for divorcees in PRH estates and that a joint meeting with the LegCo Panel on Welfare Services would be arranged to further discuss the subject. To facilitate future discussions, the Administration was requested to provide information before the joint meeting on the eligibility criteria for granting a CT to persons who were undergoing divorce proceedings; the respective number of cases referred by SWD for compassionate rehousing of applicants with and without tenancies in public housing estates; and the number of cases where rental allowances were granted as an alternative arrangement for compassionate rehousing.

IV Policy on markets in public rental housing estates

(LegCo Paper No. CB(1) 978/96-97)

11. In response to the Chairman, the Assistant Director (Commercial Properties) (AD/CP) said that 11 markets in PRH estates had been leased to single operators following the success of the trial scheme in 1989. HD would continue to improve the letting and management of markets in PRH estates.

12. In view of the relatively high vacancy rate of 14% in the Choi Yuen Estate market in Sheung Shui, the Chairman asked if HD would consider setting a lower base price for market stalls in order to increase the occupancy rate. AD/CP advised that the prices for individual stalls were market driven and that the vacancy rate was only a reflection of supply and demand. Owing to the downturn in economy over the past two years, territory-wide retail vacancy was around 7.8% whereas the HA retail vacancy was only 2.4%, showing a steady demand for HA space. He attributed the high vacancy rate in the Choi Yuen Estate market to the opening of a new Regional Council market nearby, and said that when the situation had stabilized, consideration would be given to adjusting the size of Choi Yuen market. AD/CP took note of members’ concern on possible monopoly in the event of a single person tendering for a number of market stalls.Admin

13. Some members were of the view that single-operator markets were not competitive as shown in the Annex to the information paper where the same firm was operating five PRH estate markets. They were worried that consumers would have to pay a higher price for goods sold in single-operator markets than HD-managed markets. AD/CP took note of members’ views and advised that the trial scheme to let out markets of selected PRH estates was introduced as a means to contain staff growth in HD and enhance service standards. The scheme had made possible a savings of $60,000 to $100,000 per market per month over the years. Further expansion of the scheme would be considered taking into account the performance of operators and acceptability of tenants. He assured members that firms would be carefully assessed on the basis of experience, past performance and financial background before they were included in the approved list maintained by the Housing Authority. At present, there were 11 firms on the list. When a market was selected for lease, all the firms on the list would be invited to submit a leasing proposal. Regard would be given to the rent and other terms offered, including the capital outlay and the proposed management plan, in selecting the successful operator. On the number of firms on the approved list, AD/CP advised that HD consistently sought to increase this number subject to the companies being able to provide a good standard of management. It was envisaged that the number would be increased if the scheme was shown to be profitable. He added that measures such as restricting a single operator to tender for no more than half of the total number of markets to be leased would be considered to avoid possible monopoly as in the case of privatized carparks in PRH estates. As regards differences in prices of goods sold in single-operator and HD-managed markets, AD/CP advised that based on the results of the surveys on markets in Yiu On Estate, Fu Heng Estate and Wah Kwai Estate, the prices of goods sold in these markets were similar to those in HD-managed markets in Hang On Estate, Tai Yuen Estate and Wah Fu Estate respectively. To facilitate a better understanding of the situation, members considered it useful for the Administration to provide a comparison of the price of goods sold in single-operator and HD-managed markets.

14. As to whether HD would consider leasing some of the 107 HD-managed markets to single operators, AD/CP said that operators might not be interested in these older markets. Some members remarked that such measures as installation of air-conditioners and replacement of tiles should be introduced to improve the environment of HD-managed markets. AD/CP advised that notwithstanding structural limitations, air-conditioners could be installed as at Wong Tai Sin Estate market, subject to the agreement of all stall-holders who were responsible for electricity and maintenance charges.Admin

15. Members suggested that the Administration should review the effectiveness of HD in the management of markets in PRH estates having regard to the comparatively higher efficiency of single operators. AD/CP explained that the better performance of operators was attributable mainly to such factors as a greater flexibility in staff deployment and a simpler command structure. This assisted single operators in taking prompt action including termination of licences for violations such as illegal extension of sale stands. At members’ request, the Administration undertook to provide the number of market stall tenancies terminated by HD over the past three years.Admin

16. In response to members, AD/CP advised that the setting of licence fees for individual stalls in single-operator markets was a matter for the commercial judgment of the operators, while the assessment of stall rents in HD-managed markets was done by HD surveyors taking into account factors such as location, size and trade. For members’ information, the leasing price of the single-operator market in Wah Kwai Estate was $360,000 for 414 square metres. Members considered it useful for the Administration to provide a comparison of licence fees for similar stalls in single-operator markets and alternative markets within the vicinity, and a comparison of incomes generated from leasing a single-operator market and letting individual market stalls through open tender.

17. There being no other business, the meeting closed at 12:35 pm.

Legislative Council Secretariat
29 April 1997

Last Updated on 20 August 1998