Public housing

The Ombudsman investigates the vacancy rate of public housing

The Ombudsman is investigating the Department of Housing as the vacancy rate for some social housing has reached up to 60%.

Winnie Chiu Wai-yin, the ombudsman, announced an immediate investigation on Thursday to review arrangements for senior housing (HSC) and converted single person units (C1P) by the Housing Department.

HD information showed that as of June 30, 2021, the vacancy rate for C1P units and HSC units of a similar design to C1P units was 60%, while HSC units of other designs registered a vacancy rate of 10 to 15%.

The Office of the Ombudsman has also received complaints from applicants for non-elderly public rental accommodation who had never applied for the Express Apartment Allocation Scheme (EFAS), but were allocated an HSC unit and lost a chance of being assigned an apartment by refusing the offer.

EFAS offers eligible waitlisted applicants the option of an advanced lump sum stipend, but units under the program are generally less popular. Some apartments may have involved unpleasant incidents, while others may be less desirable in terms of floor level, orientation, or interior layout.

Information from the HD also showed that over the past five years, more than 1,000 allocation refusals have been recorded each year by HLM applicants who had been allocated HSC housing.

Chiu said: “Given the persistent excess demand and increasingly long average waiting time for public rental housing in Hong Kong, value for money housing involving HSC and C1P units is an issue that worth exploring.”

“With this in mind, we are launching this direct survey to examine the allocation, occupancy and day-to-day management of HSC and C1P units, the progress and effectiveness of associated improvement measures, and the long-term arrangements of the HD .”

The Housing Authority said it would cooperate with the investigation and had constantly reviewed the situation of HSC and C1P housing in accordance with social developments. He added that all residents of HSC units are seniors while more than 95% of C1P residents are seniors or households with seniors.

The HSC program was introduced in the 1980s and 1990s, and HSCs were designed for single applicants for social housing aged 60 or over. HSC is a retirement home-style public rental accommodation with 24-hour welfare service and a shared living room, kitchen and/or bathroom.

The Department also provided C1P housing by dividing ordinary public rental housing into two or three smaller units with shared bathrooms and kitchens to meet the high demand for individual housing.

In 2000, the Hong Kong Housing Authority decided to cease construction of HSCs and remove C1P units. It then implemented various measures such as the gradual conversion of C1P units and some HSC units into ordinary public rental housing and the lifting of the age limit for HSCs while including the remaining HSC units in the program of express apartment allocation.