LCQ20: Allocation of public rental housing flats in the North District

     Following is a question by the Hon Mrs Regina Ip and a written reply by the Acting Secretary for Transport and Housing, Mr Yau Shing-mu, in the Legislative Council today (June 20):


     Quite a number of public rental housing (PRH) applicants (applicants) have written to me to raise objection to the authorities adopting the approach of cross-district flat allocation because of the shortage in supply of PRH flats in the North District.  They have pointed out that cross-district flat allocation fails to cater for their basic needs and family circumstances and therefore they have no choice but to time and again give up the valuable chance of being allocated a flat, and eventually they need to start queuing afresh.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) given the reasons pointed out by some applicants for giving up cross-district flat allocations, which include their being old and physically weak and not being able to afford the transport costs of working across districts, their children who are still at school being compelled to change schools, the need for them to take care of elderly family members in the North District, and their having difficulties in adapting to a new district because of old age, etc., whether the authorities will verify the applicants' reasons for giving up cross-district flat allocations and accord priority in the allocation of PRH flats in the North District to applicants faced with the aforesaid problems; if they will not, of the specific proposals and supportive measures offered by the authorities at present to address the problems encountered by such applicants;

(b) given that some applicants have pointed out that since quite a number of units in the older PRH estates are units under the Tenants Purchase Scheme, which are not available for allocation, while the number of refurbished flats available is very small and the new units will only be completed in a few years' time, hence there is an acute shortage of units available in the North District and Tai Po for allocation at present and applicants are often allocated PRH flats or interim housing in Tuen Mun or Tin Shui Wai, which are far away from the North District, of the number of PRH flats available for allocation in the North District and the number of applicants applying for same district allocation of PRH flats in the North District since 2009; of the details of the construction of PRH flats carried out by the authorities at present in the North District; whether the authorities have any targeted measure at present to deal with the problem of imbalanced supply of PRH flats in the North District and the applicants of the North District being compelled to move across districts, as pointed out by some applicants; if they have, of the specific details; if not, whether they will consider formulating such measures; and

(c) as some applicants have pointed out that at present, the area covered by each  Waiting List (WL) District is too extensive and they propose that the number of WL Districts be reverted from four at present to eight as in 1998 so that the WL Districts can be further demarcated and the geographical needs of the applicants can be catered for, and some applicants also propose that the Housing Department should give them the choice to confine their applications to a specified district as long as they are willing to accept the implications of such a change on the allocation arrangement and their waiting time, whether the authorities will study the feasibility of such proposals; and if the study result is in the affirmative, whether the authorities will take forward the proposals; if not, whether the authorities have any other measure in place to meet the geographical needs of the applicants; whether the authorities will consider further relaxing the restriction that applicants are generally not allowed to apply for PRH in the urban areas, so that some applicants who intend to move across districts need not remain on the WL for PRH flats in the North District; if they will not, of other targeted measures in place?



     Before giving a reply to the question, I would like to explain the purpose and the background to the change in the Waiting List (WL) districts in 1998.  Prior to 1998, there were eight WL districts.  However, owing to the distribution of available public rental housing (PRH) flats, the waiting time varied greatly from district to district.  The smaller the district size, the more difficult it was to identify suitable flats for allocation.  At that time, there were about 143 000 WL applications, and the waiting time of about 19 000 of them was six years or more, while the average waiting time was 6.5 years. The situation was very unsatisfactory.

     The Housing Authority (HA), therefore, reduced the number of WL districts from eight to four in 1998.  The primary purpose was to ensure more efficient deployment of PRH resources, to expedite flat allocation, and to reduce the prolonged waiting time for WL applicants who had chosen districts which were more popular.

     After the regrouping, the four WL districts are Urban (including Hong Kong Island and Kowloon), Extended Urban (including Tung Chung, Sha Tin, Ma On Shan, Tsuen Wan, Kwai Chung, Tsing Yi and Tseung Kwan O), the New Territories (including Tin Shui Wai, Tai Po, Fanling, Sheung Shui, Tuen Mun and Yuen Long) and the Islands (excluding Tung Chung).  WL applicants have to select a WL district to wait for their turn in flat allocation.
     In addition, owing to the tight supply of PRH flats in the Urban District, the HA approved a measure in 1990 to restrict newly-registered applicants from choosing the Urban District.  However, the HA has all along been monitoring closely the supply and demand of flats in the Urban District and has relaxed the requirement on several occasions as appropriate.  At present, WL applicants with their applications registered on or before September 30, 2009, those joining the Single Elderly Persons Priority Scheme, the Elderly Persons Priority Scheme or who choose to live with their elderly family members under the Harmonious Families Priority Scheme can choose PRH flats in the Urban District.

     In accordance with the resources available at the time of allocation, the Housing Department (HD) will allocate PRH flats to WL applicants in the order of their priority in registration, family size and choice of district when their applications on WL are due for allocation.  The allocation will be done by random computer batching for the sake of fairness.

     My response to the three parts of the question is as follows:

(a) According to the current allocation policy, WL applicants can only opt for one PRH district but not any smaller district or a particular PRH estate.  If an applicant has chosen the New Territories (NT), HD will allocate an appropriate flat located in the NT by random computer batching,.  However, for WL applicants who need to reside in a particular smaller district on exceptional medical grounds or due to social factors, on the production of supporting documents together with the recommendations from the government departments or organisations concerned (such as the Social Welfare Department or the Hospital Authority), the HD will make the arrangements accordingly as far as possible subject to the availability of resources.

(b) As regards PRH supply in the North District, Ching Ho Estate in Sheung Shui was completed in the end of 2008 and intake of population began in 2009.  Although no new PRH estate has been completed in the North District since 2009/10, the PRH development at Sheung Shui Area 36 West is under construction and is scheduled for completion in 2014/15, providing about 1 360 units.

     The HA will continue to actively identify suitable sites for PRH development in different parts of the territory, including the North District.  All sites, regardless of their size and location, will be considered for PRH development under the principle of efficient use and optimal utilisation of land resources so as to develop cost-effective and sustainable public housing.  In 2010 and 2011, we consulted the North District Council on the PRH developments at Choi Yuen Road Sites 3 and 4 in Sheung Shui and Fanling Area 49.  The planning and design of these two projects are being actively pursued.  If other suitable sites are identified in the North District for PRH development in future, we shall consult the North District Council and the local community.

     As mentioned above, according to the current allocation policy, applicants can only choose from the four PRH districts but not any smaller district.  Therefore the HD does not have any figures on the number of applications for allocation in the North District.

(c) We appreciate that some WL applicants prefer to have more district choices in their PRH applications.  However, given the limited PRH resources, if the number of WL districts is to be reverted to eight districts, or if the applicants are allowed to confine their choices to certain smaller districts, there is no question that the situation that took place before 1998 will occur again.  This would cause severe imbalance in the supply and demand of PRH flats and result in prolonged waiting times.  Moreover, families which are recommended by relevant departments to move to smaller districts for health or social reasons may not be able to have flats allocated in a timely manner.  To prevent the above situation from occurring again and to utilise our valuable housing resources as soon as possible to assist people with housing need, we consider it is appropriate to retain the four existing districts for applicants to choose from.  However, as stated above, if applicants are recommended to move to specific districts or even estates for health or social reasons, the HD will make the appropriate arrangements subject to the availability of resources.

     As regards the restrictions on applying for urban PRH flats, relaxation measures have been introduced from time to time by the HA according to the demand and supply of PRH flats in urban areas.  The most recent relaxation was approved by the Subsidised Housing Committee of the HA in June 2011, under which applicants who were registered on WL on or before September 30, 2009 can opt for urban PRH flats.  Before the relaxation, only those who registered on or before September 30, 2006 could do so.  At a suitable time when there is an appropriate level of supply of PRH flats in urban areas, the HA will review the general demand and supply of public housing resources and consider relaxing the restrictions subject to the availability of resources.

Ends/Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Issued at HKT 13:11