LCQ13: Rehousing of residents affected by land resumption and squatter clearance programmes
On the 2nd of this month, the Government sent staff to post notices at Wing Ning Tsuen, Fung Chi Tsuen and Yeung Uk Tsuen of Wang Chau in Yuen Long for resumption of land for the implementation of the development at Wang Chau (Phase 1). Feeling very flustered, residents of these villages have made several requests through Heung Yee Kuk to the Government, including the Government's identifying sites for redevelopment of their villages, exempting them from comprehensive income and asset tests in allocating public rental housing (PRH) units to them, deferring land resumption, etc. Regarding the rehousing of residents affected by land resumption and squatter clearance programmes, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the respective numbers of households, residents and squatters affected by the development at Wang Chau (Phase 1), as well as the number of households registered in the freezing survey conducted in October 2015 by the authorities;
(2) given that households affected by land resumption and squatter clearance programmes announced before September 1998 could be allocated PRH units without being subject to comprehensive income and asset tests but it is learnt that the authorities have revised the policy subsequently, whether such non-means-tested arrangement is no longer applicable at present; if so, of the implementation date; whether the authorities have explained the latest rehousing policy to the affected households when taking forward various programmes involving land resumption and squatter clearance; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(3) whether it will consider making compassionate arrangements for households affected by land resumption and squatter clearance programmes, such as exempting such households from comprehensive income and asset tests in allocating PRH units and granting them ex-gratia cash allowances; if so, of the details and the timetable; if not, the reasons for that; and
(4) whether there are differences in the rehousing arrangements for households on private lands, old scheduled lands and unleased government lands; if so, of the details and the justifications for that?
In consultation with the Development Bureau and the Lands Department (LandsD), my consolidated reply to the various parts of the question raised by the Hon Kenneth Lau is as follows.
As the Government mentioned on various occasions (Note 1) before, the Government deals with matters in relation to resumption of private land and clearance of Government land for public purposes, including the arrangements on rehousing and compensation for eligible owners and households in accordance with the established mechanism.
Under the prevailing mechanism, affected households who are owners or legal tenants of private land may claim compensation (commonly referred to as "statutory compensation") in accordance with the relevant laws of Hong Kong (including Lands Resumption Ordinance (Cap. 124), Roads (Works, Use and Compensation) Ordinance (Cap. 370), etc.). The entitlements to compensation, the procedures involved, as well as the basis and principles of assessing the compensation are set out in the relevant ordinances, while the authority for final determination of the compensation amounts under the ordinances rests with the Lands Tribunal. Affected parties may also claim applicable ex-gratia land compensation and ex-gratia allowance as an alternative to statutory compensation.
If affected households have no legal interest in the land or the structure thereon, the above-mentioned statutory compensation mechanism and the relevant ex-gratia allowance, which are applicable to owners or legal tenants of private land, are not applicable.
According to the prevailing policy, all households affected by clearances and registered in the pre-clearance freezing survey must be occupying a structure covered by a license for domestic use (i.e. a licensed domestic structure), or a structure covered by the 1982 Squatter Control Survey (SCS) and registered for domestic use (i.e. a surveyed domestic structure) (regardless of whether the structure is located on government land or private agricultural land, including old scheduled lot), and must also satisfy the relevant eligibility criteria of the Hong Kong Housing Authority for public rental housing (PRH) in order to be rehoused in PRH. From September 11, 1998, all clearees (including residents living in the licensed and surveyed structures mentioned above) are subject to the same eligibility criteria for rehousing as other PRH applicants, including the income test, assets test and compliance with the "No Domestic Property" rule. As PRH is a precious social resource which is heavily subsidised by public funds, people affected by Government's clearance actions and requiring rehousing are subject to the assets and income tests to ensure that limited public housing resources are used to accommodate households in genuine need but cannot afford other types of housing. Otherwise, it would be unfair to the many applicants who are waiting for PRH.
For clearees who have continuously lived in a licensed domestic structure or a surveyed domestic structure covered by the 1982 SCS for at least ten years immediately preceding the date of the pre-clearance freezing survey, but cannot be allocated PRH because they cannot pass the income and assets tests or due to other reasons, they may apply for the Ex-gratia Allowance for Permitted Occupiers of Licensed Domestic Structures and Surveyed Domestic Squatter Structures Affected by Clearance, the amount of which will be based on the size of the domestic structure occupied and the length of occupation, subject to a ceiling of $600,000. Persons receiving such allowance cannot apply for PRH in two years' time.
If the household is occupying a structure covered by a license for non-domestic use (i.e. a licensed non-domestic structure) or a structure covered by the 1982 SCS and registered for non-domestic use (i.e. a surveyed non-domestic structure), the above-mentioned ex-gratia allowance arrangement does not apply. If these households have continuously been occupying these structures for at least two years immediately preceding the date of the pre-clearance freezing survey for domestic use, they are eligible for Domestic Removal Allowance (Note 2), the amount of which depends on the household size.
The above arrangements applicable to licensed structures or squatter structures surveyed in 1982 are made having regard to the Government's consistent squatter control policy, which tolerates only those unauthorised structures covered by the 1982 territory-wide SCS. While those squatter structures surveyed in 1982 and licensed structures are allowed to exist until they phase out through natural wastage, or are subject to clearance by the Government for development, environmental improvement or safety concerns, they are not allowed to be used for purposes other than those recorded.
When conducting the pre-clearance freezing survey, LandsD will issue a pamphlet entitled "Rehousing of Occupants of Squatter Structures affected by Government Clearance Operations" to residents affected by the clearance operations, which explains in detail the prevailing clearance rehousing policies.
Furthermore, it is the Government's policy that no one will be rendered homeless as a result of the Government's enforcement actions, natural disasters, and emergency incidents. People who fail to meet the aforesaid rehousing criteria and are unable to find alternative accommodation themselves may apply through referrals by relevant government departments for admission to the Housing Department's transit centres while waiting for eligibility vetting for further rehousing or looking for alternative accommodation themselves.
Regarding Phase 1 of the public housing development plan at Wang Chau, LandsD conducted a pre-clearance freezing survey in the areas involved in the development plan concerned on October 30, 2015 in accordance with the development timetable. A total of about 180 households, involving about 400 clearees, were registered in the pre-clearance freezing survey. Based on the latest figures available, it was tentatively established that among the registered households, about 100 households are residing in licensed domestic structures or surveyed domestic structures covered by the 1982 SCS; about 50 households are residing in licensed non-domestic structures or surveyed non-domestic structures covered by the 1982 SCS; and the remaining some 30 households are residing in unlicensed structures or structures that are not registered by the SCS. Since the occupants of certain structures cannot be reached yet, the comprehensive situation of affected households is pending confirmation. LandsD has been progressively establishing contacts with the registered households to explain to them the relevant ex-gratia allowance and rehousing arrangements. As at the end of April 2017, LandsD has met with 80 households.
LandsD posted land resumption notices in accordance with the relevant ordinances on May 2, 2017. The affected private lots will be reverted to the Government (i.e. ownership of the land will be reverted to the Government) three months after affixing the notices. As to when the residents and other occupants have to vacate the structures they occupied or the government land concerned, the current target is for the clearance to be conducted in phases and to be completed by early 2018, when the site is to be handed over to the Civil Engineering and Development Department to carry out the works. The Government will continue to closely liaise with the affected land owners and occupants to explain the clearance compensation and rehousing arrangements and assess their eligibility. Eligibility vetting of applicants for ex-gratia allowance or rehousing to PRH will be completed in batches before early 2018.
Note 1: Including the joint meetings of the Legislative Council Panel on Housing and Panel on Development on the public housing development plan at Wang Chau; discussions on block allocations under the Capital Works Reserve Fund by the Legislative Council Public Works Subcommittee and Finance Committee; as well as meetings between the Government and residents affected by the public housing development plan at Wang Chau, etc.
Note 2: Domestic Removal Allowance is applicable to eligible households residing in licensed domestic structures or surveyed domestic structures covered by the 1982 SCS, or eligible households continuously occupying licensed non-domestic structures or surveyed non-domestic structures covered by the 1982 SCS for domestic use for at least two years immediately preceding the date of the pre-clearance freezing survey. Households eligible for PRH or Ex-gratia Allowance for Permitted Occupiers of Licensed Domestic Structures and Surveyed Domestic Squatter Structures Affected by Clearance may also apply for Domestic Removal Allowance at the same time.
Ends/Wednesday, May 31, 2017
Issued at HKT 14:35
Issued at HKT 14:35