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New measures key to ensuring fair distribution of public housing

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New measures key to ensuring fair distribution of public housing

By Steve Cho

For many Hong Kong residents, public housing is an indispensable accommodation alternative since it is an affordable, safe and stable housing option. However, there has been a severe shortage in the supply of public rental housing (PRH) units over the past few decades and demand remains extremely strong.

Despite implementation of various policy measures, the root of the housing problem in the city is a long way from being addressed. In such circumstances, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government should strengthen supervision and management of public housing resources to ensure that they can be allocated fairly to residents in need and be utilized effectively. This article will explore the latest public housing policy reforms and present analysis of the related issues.

It has long been stressed that public housing is one of Hong Kong’s most valuable resources. However, there remains a serious problem with PRH tenants misusing their units. According to data published by the Housing Department last year, in the financial year of 2021-22, around 1,300 PRH units were repossessed by the authority because of reasons such as tenants’ abuse of the units and breaches of the leasing terms. In view of the situation, the Subsidised Housing Committee (the Committee) under the Housing Authority (HA) approved and implemented several new measures on May 24. Their purpose is to ensure the fair distribution and effective use of public housing resources, and at the same time, crack down on the abuse of public housing. The major components of the new measures are as follows:

The first key element is to combat the abuse of PRH units. The new measures have strengthened the supervision and management of public housing estates by requiring tenants to make declarations every two years as to their continuous possession of the units and their compliance with the relevant terms of the lease, and at the same time, to authorize the HA to verify the information. Public housing tenants who have their tenancy cancelled because of false statements will be prohibited from making new applications for five years and they may face additional penalties such as prosecution, fines and imprisonment.

The second key element goes to optimization of the “Well-off Tenants Policies”. The new measure closes loopholes in the existing regulations and simplifies the existing policy targeting wealthy tenants. Previously, public housing tenants were only required to declare whether they own other residential properties in Hong Kong every two years after they have lived in PRH units for 10 years. The reformed policy now requires public housing tenants to make declarations to the Housing Department every two years since taking possession of their unit with regard to ownership of domestic properties in Hong Kong of both the tenant and all other family members under the lease.

The third key element concerns enhancement of the “Addition Policy” governing the addition of family members. The revised Addition Policy no longer allows elderly tenants to apply to add other adult offspring to the tenancy if there is already an adult offspring (irrespective of marital status) in the tenancy.

The new measures target tenants who make false declarations on their income, leave units vacant, sublet or re-let units, use flats for nondomestic purposes or conduct illegal activities. In the past five years, there were about 670 prosecutions over violations of the Housing Ordinance. As of November 2022, 11 residents were sentenced to imprisonment or received a suspended sentence. According to data from 2018 through 2022, the Housing Department evaluated and reviewed 238,000 income and asset declaration forms submitted by public housing tenants on average every year; and each subordinating team investigated about 6,000 cases. The process involved cross-departmental data verification such as checking with the Land Registry on whether the public housing tenant concerned had purchased or owned any residential premises without reporting them. The results revealed an average of about 690 cases of concealment of property ownership or exceeding the limit of total family assets every year, amounting to 0.3 percent of all declaration forms.

The tragic murder of the model, socialite and internet celebrity Abby Choi Tin-fung in February not only shocked Hong Kong, it also revealed that the Kwong family, who were allegedly behind the crime, had been able to purchase a Home Ownership Scheme flat with the green form status despite already owning a luxurious home worth millions of dollars.

Regrettably, the HA and the Housing Society have failed to detect many similar cases of abuse, which has allowed ineligible tenants to take advantage of the system and harm those who desperately need public housing. The problem of public housing abuse by wealthy households has still to be solved by the government, but will require the cooperation of all sectors of society.

Taking measures against well-off tenants as an example, by March 2021, the HA had issued notices to quit to about 1,000 tenants who violated the “Well-off Tenant Policies”. Although around 520 households who violated the policies owned a domestic property, only 330 ultimately returned the PRH unit. As the chairman of the HA and the secretary for housing Winnie Ho Wing-yin emphasized, the government ought to implement a wide range of measures including preventive detection, in-depth investigation, publicity and education to combat tenancy abuse and ensure that public housing resources are allocated to those who are in need the most in response to the calls of the community.

The HA’s adoption of measures to ensure the proper use of public rental housing resources proves the authority’s determination to put an end to tenancy abuse.

Solving the deep-rooted housing problem in Hong Kong requires the combined efforts of the government, the general public and the real estate sector. The government needs to formulate comprehensive policies to strengthen its supervision of various aspects to ensure effective implementation of the policies. At the same time, the government also needs to enhance its publicity and education to society to enable citizens to better understand the policy contents and objectives so that any unintentional misunderstandings or unwelcoming responses can be avoided. This is a prerequisite for public housing resources to better serve the general public and allow more eligible residents to enjoy a safer, stable and affordable housing option.

The author is a Kowloon City District Council member, and co-director of public policy and district administration of Chinese Dream Think Tank. 

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

【CDTT Newspaper Article】Steve Cho:New measures key to ensuring fair distribution of public housing (China Daily HK Edition 14 July 2023)

https://www.chinadailyhk.com/article/340708#New-measures-key-to-ensuring-fair-distribution-of-public-housing

This article is reproduced by Kwun Media with the consent of China Daily.

Chinese Dream Think Tank is a non-profit Hong Kong-based organization working with skilled volunteers, experts and professionals who are passionate about telling the China story well.

中國夢智庫|公屋措施新修訂 分配資源要公平

對於香港市民而言,公屋是一個非常重要的住屋選擇,因為它是一個可負擔的住屋選擇,同時也是一個保障安全和穩定的住屋選擇。然而,長期以來公屋供應不足,市民的需求仍然非常迫切,就算有很多政策措施出現,也無法完全解決問題。在這種情況下,政府需要加強監管和管理,確保公屋資源能夠公平分配和有效利用。本文將探討公屋措施新修訂並分析相關問題。

公屋是香港社會寶貴的資源,然而,當中不乏有公屋申請人及租戶濫用公屋公共資源。據去年房屋署資料,在2021/22年度租戶因濫用和違反租約等原因而被收回的公屋單位約有1,300個。有鑑於此,房委會轄下的資助房屋小組委員會(小組委員會)於今年五月二十四日通過實施幾項的新措施,公屋措施新修訂的主要內容包括打擊濫用公屋、優化富戶政策和加戶政策。這些措施的目的是為了確保公屋資源能夠公平分配和有效利用,同時也限制和遏止濫用公屋的行為。這些措施的主要內容如下:

其一,打擊濫用公屋。新措施加強了監管和管理,要求公屋租戶每兩年申報已持續居住單位並遵守相關租約條款,同時授權房委會查核其資料。公屋租戶如果因為虛假陳述被取消公屋申請,將在五年內無法再次申請公屋,並可能面臨檢控、罰款和監禁等處罰。其二,優化富戶政策。新措施填補現行條例的漏洞,簡化富戶政策,即公屋租戶不再由以往居住滿十年後需隔兩年就是否擁有香港住宅物業作出申報,修訂為由入住公屋開始,每兩年向房屋署申報戶主及所有成員有否擁有香港住宅物業。其三,加戶政策。經修訂後的加戶政策不再容許年長租戶的戶籍內的成年子女(不論婚姻狀況),再添加入其他成年子女到戶籍。

新措施的修訂主要針對虛報入息、丟空單位、分租或轉租單位、將單位用作非住宅用途及在單位內進行不法活動等租戶。去年因違反《房屋條例》而遭檢控的個案約有 670 宗,截至 2022 年 11 月,當中11名住戶因此而被判監或緩刑。據統計,在 2018 至 2022年度中,平均房屋署每年需評估審核大約 23.8 萬份的公屋租戶所提交的入息及資產申報表,轄下的每個小組需要處理及全面調查的案件約為 6,000 宗。過程中涉及跨部門的資料覆核,如向土地註冊處核實該案件的公屋租戶是否購入並置有住宅而不作申報,而結果揭發平均每年約有 690 宗隱瞞擁有物業或家庭總資產超過限額個案,佔整體申報表 0.3%。

轟動一時的蔡天鳳案不但令全港注目,而該案背後鄺姓一家更被指出不但持有價值數千萬元的豪宅。但同時間持有一間公屋單位,並且可以而綠表購買一間居屋單位。當中房委會及房協卻未能及時察覺並介入事件,讓立心不良的「假租戶」收取豐厚的利益,使真正需要公屋的輪候人士帶來不公。公屋濫用及富戶愈富的問題仍待政府解決,各界需要配合。以打擊富戶租戶為例,至 2021 年 3 月,房委會發向約 1,000 個違反「富戶政策」的公屋住戶發出遷出通知書,當中在港擁有住宅物業並違規的租戶約有 520 戶,但最終交還單位的只有 330 個住戶。房委會主席、房屋局局長何永賢也提及到:「透過預防偵察、調查行動、宣傳教育等工作,全方位打擊濫用公屋行為,以進一步確保公屋資源能分配予最有需要的市民身上,回應社會訴求。

是次房委會通過確保善用公共租住房屋資源措施,可見有心立志要有效打擊濫用公屋的現象。其一,簡化及填補現行條例的漏洞,避免不法之徒行走條文的灰色地帶及利用現存機制謊報入息及資產總額。其二,加強小組專責,審核租戶是否存在濫用公屋的情況。其三,提高刑罰能更有效阻嚇租戶不當使用單位。

新措施的實施能夠有效限制和遏止濫用公屋的行為,然而,這些措施也引起了一些質疑和爭議。有議員認為「定期暫准居住」被縮短為 4 個月成效仍然不大,因現今數碼科技發達,富戶可在短時間內轉走大量資金,以達致最低限額,問題仍是未有解決。對於這些質疑,我們可以從不同角度來進行分析。首先,從政策本身來看,收緊公屋富戶政策也存在著一些問題。政策的入息門檻未能達致彈性審核。例如,某家庭剛好達致富戶標準的入息上限而被視為富戶。然而,在香港的高房價和高生活成本下,這些家庭也可能無法承擔私人房屋的租金或貸款,而只能依靠公屋生活。因此,房委會應要考慮如何增派人手特別處理該類型案件並考慮到實際情況。其次,房委會可成立一支突擊小組,加強突擊巡查有可疑或長期無人在家的單位,若發現租戶或該租戶違規或單位無人居住的情況,可馬上通報專責小組深入跟進,以更有效及針對打擊該類單位。

總體而言,解決香港的房屋問題需要政府、市民和房地產業界的共同努力。政府需要制定更加完善的政策和措施,並加強監管力度,確保政策的有效實施。同時,政府也需要加強對社會的宣傳和教育,讓市民更加了解政策的內容和目的,避免出現誤解和不當行為。這樣才能夠讓公屋資源更好地服務香港市民,讓市民能夠享有更安全、穩定和可負擔的住屋選擇,該市民有更多獲得感、幸福感、安全感!

文:左滙雄
《中國夢智庫》政策與地區事務聯合總監
九龍城區議員
經民聯九龍中支部主席
物業管理業監管局成員
房委會小組委員會委員
九龍城區撲滅罪行委員會委員
選舉委員會委員
佛山順德區政協

《中國夢智庫》是一間扎根特區的非牟利團體;與心存熱誠的資深義工、專家與職業專業人士們合作,攜手「說好中國故事」。

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