LegCo Paper No. CB(1) 342/96-97
(These minutes have been seen
by the Administration)
Ref : CB1/PL/HG/1

LegCo Panel on Housing

Minutes of Meeting held on Wednesday, 16 October 1996 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 SZETO Wah
    Hon Ronald ARCULLI, OBE, JP
    Hon Albert CHAN Wai-yip
    Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong
    Hon Fred LI Wah-ming
    Hon James TO Kun-sun
    Hon Zachary WONG Wai-yin
    Hon CHAN Kam-lam
    Hon CHAN Yuen-han
    Hon Andrew CHENG Kar-foo
    Hon CHEUNG Hon-chung
    Hon CHOY Kan-pui, JP
    Hon LEUNG Yiu-chung
    Hon Bruce LIU Sing-lee
    Hon LO Suk-ching
    Hon SIN Chung-kai
Members absent :
    Hon Edward S T HO, OBE, JP
    Dr Hon YEUNG Sum
    Hon Albert HO Chun-yan
Public officers attending:
or all agenda items
    Ms L K LAM
    Assistant Secretary for Housing (Special Duties)2
    Mr Marco WU
    Acting Director of Housing
For agenda item IV
    Mr Anthony HUI
    Assistant Director/Application and Home Ownership
For agenda item V
    Mr LEE Chu-yin
    Chief Housing Manager/Redevelopment
Clerk in attendance :
    Mrs Vivian KAM
    Chief Assistant Secretary (1)2
Staff in attendance :
    Miss Becky YU
    Senior Assistant Secretary (1)3

I Confirmation of minutes of previous meetings

(LegCo Papers No. CB(1) 46, 59 and 74/96-97)

The minutes of the meetings held on 7 May, 3 June and 2 October 1996 were confirmed.

II Date and items for discussion for the next meeting and matters arising

(LegCo Paper No. CB(1) 94/96-97)

2. The next meeting would be held on Monday, 4 November 1996, at 10:45 am to discuss "Rent control in private residential housing".

(Post-meeting note: The subjects of "Quality of flats in Tivoli Gardens at Tsing Yi" and "Re-mortgage of Sandwich Class housing flats" were subsequently also included for discussion at the next meeting.)

Subcommittee on Long Term Housing Strategy Review

3. The Chairman reminded members of the first meeting of the Subcommittee on Tuesday, 29 October 1996, at 2:30 pm. The purpose of the meeting would be for considering the research report on "Study of housing need and housing demand" prepared by the Research and Library Services Division of the LegCo Secretariat.

III Public rental housing: production target and waiting list

(LegCo Paper No. CB(1) 94/96-97 (01)/(02))

4. At the Chairman’s invitation, Mr Marco WU introduced briefly the subject on the basis of the information paper circulated vide LegCo Paper No. CB(1) 94/96-97(02). The Chairman made reference to the Director of Housing (D of H)’s recent remarks to the press that needy families on the General Waiting List (WL) might be accorded higher priority in the allocation of public rental housing (PRH) flats, and sought clarification from the Administration in this respect. Mr Marco WU clarified that this represented only a preliminary view of the D of H and views on this initiative would be welcome. While some members were worried that the Administration might prescribe additional conditions to further restrict the eligibility of candidates on WL, others agreed with a need for reviewing the current first-come-first-served allocation system for PRH on the basis of actual need and without prejudice to those who were already on WL. A member remarked that the allocation system in Sheffield of the United Kingdom would serve as a useful reference. Mr WU re-iterated that the Administration was committed to providing public housing to households in genuine need and that higher priority would be accorded to applicants with special needs. Applicants with genuine housing needs on medical or social grounds would be offered priority housing under the Compassionate Re-housing Scheme on the recommendation of the Social Welfare Department (SWD). Priority would also be given to elderly households under various elderly priority housing schemes. Mr WU added that the appropriateness of the prevailing housing policies would be examined in the context of the Long Term Housing Strategy Review. In parallel with the Review, other measures such as encouraging better-off tenants to acquire their own homes in order to make available more PRH flats for re-allocation had been introduced to ensure rational allocation of public housing resources.

5. A member considered that applications for compassionate re-housing should be handled by the Housing Department (HD) direct as SWD might not be able to refer cases which fell outside its jurisdiction; he quoted the example of residents of dilapidated premises in frequently flooded areas in New Territories North. Mr WU clarified that not all affected residents in the district referred to would be eligible for compassionate re-housing and that other government departments might also refer cases for emergency re-housing, as in the case of dangerous slopes. In view of the expertise involved, Mr WU advised that it might not be possible for HD to handle these applications direct.

6. In referring to paragraph 5 of the information paper, members sought clarification on how the pledge for reducing the average waiting time for PRH from seven to under five years could be achieved. Mr WU explained that of the 148,942 applicants currently on WL, only 88,000 households would be eligible for the allocation of PRH flats according to past experience. The number of effective new household applications was estimated at 12,000 per annum, or an aggregate of 60,000 by the year 2001, making a WL total of 148,000. With the provision of 80,000 new and refurbished flats during the period from 1996 to 2001, the effective WL in 2001 would be reduced to 68,000, and this would mean an average waiting time of just under five years. Mr WU emphasized that the average waiting time of five years had been projected on the basis of supply and demand for PRH. The reduction was an estimate and not a performance pledge. Taking into account the programme for land supply and rate of flat production over the next few years, a further reduction in the average waiting time from five to three years, as suggested by members, would not be realistic. In reply to a member, Mr WU advised that while every effort would be made to meet the supply forecast outlined in Annex A of the information paper, it was difficult to predict whether the target supply could be achieved as slippage due to unforeseen reasons might occur. At members’ request, the Administration undertook to provide information on the basis upon which the average for different districts set out in Annex D of the information paper had been arrived at, the number of PRH flats which had been allocated to WL applicants over the past few years, and the number of PRH flats which had been converted into Home Ownership flats.

7. In response to members, Mr Anthony HUI advised that of the 148,000 WL applicants, about 22,000 would be sitting tenants or residents affected by the clearance programmes. Mr HUI supplemented that the effect of these applications on the allocation of PRH flats would be minimal as the former would be required to surrender their rental units upon allocation while the latter would be deleted from WL upon re-housing through clearance operations. To facilitate members’ understanding of the composition of WL, the Administration undertook to provide information on the number of WL applicants who were living in private tenements.Admin

8. As to whether rental assistance would be offered to applicants who had been on WL in excess of the average waiting time, Mr WU advised that this would need to be carefully assessed in view of the significant implications on resources; the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance already served as one form of assistance to the needy. Mr HUI supplemented that there were many causes leading to prolonged waiting time. These included for example the re-instatement of applications for applicants whose monthly income exceeded the income limit at the time when their applications were processed; the change of choice of districts in the middle of applications; and the time required for the majority of family members to meet the seven-year residence rule. The average waiting time was about four to six years. Some members were worried that WL applicants might not be aware of the prevailing allocation criteria and considered a need for the Administration to step up publicity. Mr HUI assured members that clear guidelines on applications for PRH had been issued to all WL applicants. These included the conditions for housing allocation whereby a maximum of three offers would be made to WL applicants, and where subsequent offers would only be considered under exceptional circumstances.

9. As regards new applications for PRH in urban districts, Mr WU advised that owing to the acute shortage of PRH units in the urban areas, it was not possible to accept any new applications at the present stage. New applications could only be considered when the backlog had been cleared. In reply to members on the distribution of new and refurbished units in housing allocation, Mr WU emphasized the need to strike a balance between limited housing resources and demand from various re-housing categories. Of the total number of PRH flats available for allocation up to 2001, 43% would be refurbished units and 57% would be new units. He assured members that vacated PRH flats would be renovated according to prevailing standards before re-allocation. A member remarked that such projections as the number of PRH flats available for allocation and the distribution of new and refurbished flats within districts would be useful in assisting WL applicants to make their choice of districts at an early stage. Mr WU acknowledged that this suggestion could be considered but advised that such a projection would only be feasible in newly developed areas and might be less feasible for urban areas, in particular those affected by the Comprehensive Redevelopment Programme.

10. A member expressed concern that the prevailing policy of re-assessing WL applicants once every 18 months would affect their order of priority in housing allocation. Mr HUI clarified that there was a need for HD to confirm with the applicants the validity of information in their applications once every 18 months. He emphasized that this was not a re-assessment and that allocation of PRH flats was in accordance with the order of priority on WL and the districts chosen. Vetting interviews would only be conducted when the applicants’ turn for allocation came up. In reply to members, Mr WU advised that there was an established policy on addition of family members from China. Immigrants who were spouses or children under the age of 18 of sitting tenants in PRH were allowed to join their families, and could apply for re-allocation of larger flats if such additions would result in overcrowded living conditions.

IV Temporary Housing Area and Interim Housing

(LegCo Paper No. CB(1) 94/96-97(03)/(04))

11. Mr WU briefly introduced the subject at the Chairman’s invitation. Members were unanimously opposed to the retention of the 13 Temporary Housing Areas (THAs) in view of the poor living environment. They questioned the rationale for the retention having regard to the Administration’s plan to replace THAs with interim housing (IH). Members also sought clarification on the difference between these two types of temporary housing accommodation and on the Administration’s plan to permanently re-house residents concerned. Mr WU emphasized that the 13 THAs had been retained on a need basis. These would be used to provide temporary accommodation for those who became homeless for one reason or another, but were not immediately eligible for public housing. He assured members that vacated flats would be refurbished according to prevailing standards before re-allocation. Mr LEE Chu-yin supplemented that the Administration acknowledged the need to bring about a better living environment in THAs and had stepped up cleansing of public areas, security measures and rodent/termite control. Mr LEE stressed that improvement to THAs could not be achieved without the cooperation of tenants concerned. To this end, efforts had been made to enhance communication between HD and residents in THAs. As regards the difference between THAs and IH, Mr WU advised that IH would be of higher quality as these were refurbished older rental blocks in urban fringe areas. A pilot scheme for another new type of "Prefabricated Interim Housing" would be implemented in Sha Kok Mei THA shortly. A member expressed reservations at the proposed prefabricated IH on THA sites since these would not bring about improvements to the living environment. He considered a need for the Administration to conduct a value for money assessment on the proposal. Mr WU undertook to consider members’ views. He also affirmed that IH would replace THA in the long run. As for re-housing plans for residents in IH, Mr WU advised that this would have to be decided by the Management and Operations Committee of the Housing Authority.

12. Members remained unconvinced of the need to retain the THAs and asked about plans for demolition of the 13 THAs. Mr LEE advised that the Administration planned to clear all existing THAs by the year 2001. In the meantime, THAs would still be required to cater for the need of say new immigrants living in squatters. The Administration had estimated that there would be about 20,000 persons in the next five years who would not be eligible for PRH in clearance programmes. The Housing Branch (HB) was working closely with the Planning, Environment and Lands Branch with a view to increasing land supply for housing. Hon James TO Kun-sun asked to record his lack of confidence on the Administration’s plan to clear all THAs by 2001. The Chairman requested the Administration to provide a time-table for demolition of the 13 THAs.Admin

13. As to whether the Administration would consider extending IH to East and Central Kowloon where the demand for temporary housing accommodation was most pressing, Mr WU appreciated members’ suggestion but advised that it might be difficult to identify suitable rental blocks in these areas due to the impending redevelopment programmes.

14. In reply to members on the re-housing arrangements for residents in THAs, in particular those remaining in the Kai Cheung THA, Mr WU advised that residents in THAs had an advantage over applicants on WL taking into account the Administration’s pledge to re-house almost three-quarters of the temporary housing population as at October 1995 by the year 1997. In addition, at least one housing offer would be made to residents who were living in THAs in September 1995 by the end of 1997. Mr WU added that the remaining families in the Kai Cheung THA would have been re-housed had they accepted the allocation of reception flats. As to whether the Administration would consider invoking Housing Ordinance Cap 283 to recover THA flats, Mr LEE said that every effort would be made to persuade residents to move out from THAs but if this was not possible, the Ordinance would be invoked as the last resort. At members’ request, Mr WU undertook to provide information in relation to the re-housing offers made to the remaining households in the Kai Cheung THA.HD

15. In referring to Annex C of the information paper, members questioned the rationale for allocating a considerable proportion of the 13 THA sites for recreational purposes taking into account the acute shortage in land supply for housing. They suggested that consideration should be given to using sites originally planned for IH for PRH and that the plot ratio should be enhanced to increase the number of flats to be constructed. Mr WU advised that the long-term land use of these sites was determined by the Planning Department taking into account the need to strike a balance between housing and recreational facilities. Mr LEE added that a number of other factors such as the availability of schools and transportation services would have to be taken into consideration when planning for housing projects. A member was strongly of the view that the Administration should demonstrate positively the fact that all factors had been considered before deciding on the use of the sites concerned. While other members appreciated the Administration’s intention to build well-designed and large estates, they pressed for emphasis to be focused on providing more land to meet the increased housing demand, regardless of the size of the lots. The Chairman remarked that the subject of land use should be jointly discussed by the Panels on Housing, and Planning, Lands and Works. As to whether the Housing Authority had asked for allocation of the site in Long Bin which had no potential development at the present stage, Mr WU undertook to respond in writing. He would also advise the land use for the THA site in Long Bin.HD

16. Some members were disappointed that no improvement had been made to the living density of refurbished THA flats in Long Bin. Mr LEE advised that the living density of new THAs was similar to that of PRH flats at 5.5 square metres per person. Overcrowded households in the 13 THAs could apply for re-housing to larger flats subject to the availability of reception flats. At members’ request, Mr LEE undertook to look into the possibility of re-partitioning the 13 THAs to create larger units. Members nevertheless urged the Administration to endeavor to improve living environment in THAs.HD

V Any other business

17. There being no other business, the meeting closed at 12:40 pm.

Legislative Council Secretariat
18 November 1996

Last Updated on 20 August 1998