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LCQ16: Subsidised housing provided by the Hong Kong Housing Society
     Following is a question by the Hon Alice Mak and a written reply by the Acting Secretary for Transport and Housing, Mr Yau Shing-mu, in the Legislative Council today (May 24):

     Since May 2014, an adult offspring of a tenant of a rental unit under the Hong Kong Housing Society (HKHS) must, upon the death of the tenant, pass the comprehensive means test (CMT) (i.e. his/her monthly family income and assets must be below the prescribed limits) before he or she is allowed to take over the tenancy as the new tenant.  On the other hand, some tenants have relayed to me that the mechanism used by HKHS to adjust the rents of its rental units lacks transparency, and that HKHS has not offered rent assistance to tenants who are in financial difficulties.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council if it knows:
(1) the number of vacant units under HKHS which were available in the past five years for allocation to eligible applicants;
(2) (i) the monthly family income limits and (ii) the family asset limits which were applicable respectively to the flats in Groups A and B rental housing estates under HKHS, as well as (iii) their respective levels of adjustment, in each of the past five years (set out by household size);
(3) (i) the number of applications for take-over of tenancy received by HKHS from its tenants, and (ii) the number of applications rejected by HKHS on grounds of the applicants' failure to pass CMT, in the past five years;
(4) the details of the mechanisms currently used by HKHS to adjust (i) the monthly family income limits, (ii) the family asset limits and (iii) the rents of its rental units (including the considerations and the formula for calculation); whether HKHS will review such mechanisms expeditiously with a view to increasing their transparency; and
(5) whether HKHS will consider making reference to the practice of the Hong Kong Housing Authority and set up a rent assistance scheme to provide rent assistance to tenants who are in financial difficulties but are not receiving Comprehensive Social Security Assistance; if not, of the reasons for that?
     The Hong Kong Housing Society (HKHS) is an independent, financially autonomous, self-financing and not-for-profit organisation, with the mission to serve the needs of the Hong Kong community in housing and related services.  HKHS operates and manages its rental estates according to its own policies.
     Based on the information from HKHS, my reply to various parts of the question raised by the Hon Alice MAK is as follows:
(1) In the past five financial years (i.e. from April 2012 to March 2017), a total of 1 207 Group A rental units, 54 Group B rental units and 255 Elderly Persons' Flats were available for allocation to eligible applicants.
(2) In the past five years, the family income and asset limits applicable to Group A and Group B rental units, together with the respective rates of yearly adjustment, are set out at Annex A.
(3) Since May 2014, upon the death of a tenant of HKHS's rental unit, apart from meeting the prescribed eligibility criteria, (note) all family members who are listed on the tenancy have to undergo a comprehensive means test before a new tenancy can be granted.  In applying for taking over the tenancy, the following households can be exempted from the comprehensive means test: surviving spouse; households whose family members listed on the tenancy are all 60 years of age or above; households receiving Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA); households of compassionate and special cases recommended by the Social Welfare Department; and households on shared tenancies.  Income and asset limits under the comprehensive means test (which are three times and 84 times respectively of the family income limits for applying for rental units) are set out at Annex B.
     From May 2014 to March 2017, HKHS received a total of 1 661 applications for taking over the tenancy.  Among these applications, 1 082 cases were exempted from the comprehensive means test while 579 cases had to undergo the comprehensive means test.  47 cases did not proceed with the application and surrendered the rental units to HKHS on grounds that the applicants either did not meet the eligibility criteria or failed to provide the information required, out of which seven cases failed the comprehensive means test.
(4) HKHS reviews and assesses family income and asset limits of rental units on an annual basis.  In determining the limits, HKHS mainly refers to the results of annual review on income and asset limits of public rental housing by the Hong Kong Housing Authority (HA).  HKHS aims to align the relevant limits with HA's limits in the long run.
     In addition, HKHS reviews the domestic rent level every two years.  Main consideration for rent adjustment is the operating costs of the estates and includes the following specific factors: rental income must be sufficient to cover the recurrent management expenses, tenancy administration cost, rates (if included in rent) and Government rent; and provision to be set aside for major improvement works, repair and maintenance.  In reviewing domestic rent level, HKHS also takes into account other economic statistics (such as inflation rate and salary index), affordability of tenants, etc.

(5) According to information as at March 2017, about 9 per cent of HKHS tenants are CSSA recipients.  These tenants receive rental allowance under CSSA for rent payment.  If individual tenants have long-term financial difficulty in paying rent, they can apply for transfer to other estates under HKHS with lower rent.  As for senior tenants, they may also consider transferring to the Elderly Persons' Flats which are underlet at a concessionary rent.  To help tenants in need to seek appropriate assistance, HKHS has arranged for registered social workers (i.e. Service Coordinators) to station in the rental estates to follow up individual cases.  HKHS also reviews from time to time the channel and approach in providing appropriate assistance to tenants with financial difficulties.  Moreover, there are various resources available in the community that can render appropriate assistance to families facing short-term financial difficulties as a result of unexpected incidents.
Note: The eligibility criteria of taking over the tenancy are: all family members listed on the tenancy do not own any domestic property in Hong Kong from the date of the application up to the date of commencement of the new tenancy agreement or licence; and the above family members are not listed in any subsidised housing scheme.
Ends/Wednesday, May 24, 2017
Issued at HKT 12:19
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