LCQ4: Revised "Well-off Tenants Policies"
The revised Housing Subsidy Policy and Policy on Safeguarding Rational Allocation of Public Housing Resources ("the revised Well-off Tenants Policies"), implemented by the authorities since this month, have tightened up the relevant requirement under which public rental housing ("PRH") households are required to vacate their PRH units if their family incomes or total net assets have exceeded the relevant limits. It has been reported that some PRH tenants have, one after another, made applications for the deletion of young working household members from the tenancy of public housing so as to avoid their family incomes exceeding the limits. In the first half of this year, 21 800 applications for deletion of household members from the tenancy of public housing were approved, representing 60 per cent of the 33 800 applications for the whole of last year. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) as some comments have pointed out that, while the benefits are yet to be seen, the revised Well-off Tenants Policies have already given rise to the situation of split families, rendering young household members being unable to live with and take care of their senior household members, whether it has assessed if such policies are running contrary to the Chinese tradition of filial piety;
(2) whether it will consider introducing, under the revised Well-off Tenants Policies, less stringent household income limits applicable to households of young people and senior family members living together, so as to encourage young people to live with senior family members for happy family life and, at the same time, to tie in with the Government's policy direction of ageing in place; and
(3) whether it has assessed, as a result of the implementation of the revised Well-off Tenants Policies, the additional annual numbers of PRH units to be recovered, as well as the respective additional annual numbers of persons who need to rent a private residential unit and those who need to apply for a PRH unit after vacating their PRH units; of the measures in place to help young people whose tenancy of public housing has been deleted but who are unable to afford the rents of private residential units?
The Hong Kong Housing Authority (HA)'s Housing Subsidy Policy and the Policy on Safeguarding Rational Allocation of Public Housing Resources are commonly referred to as the "Well-off Tenants Policies" (WTP). Households who have been living in public rental housing (PRH) for ten years are required to make biennial declarations. In addition, households who are granted new tenancy under the "Policy on Grant of New Tenancy" or households with their applications approved under the "Tenancy Management Policies for PRH" are also required to make biennial declarations pursuant to the WTP, irrespective of their length of residence.
Since the demand for PRH far exceeds supply, HA considers that while best efforts has all along been made to increase PRH supply, it should at the same time examine ways to better utilise PRH resources to ensure that such resources would be focused towards allocating to those with more pressing housing needs. HA endorsed revisions to the WTP and the implementation details of the Policies in December 2016 and February 2017 respectively. Implementation of the revised WTP has commenced since the declaration cycle in October 2017.
In gist, under the revised WTP, PRH households with private domestic property ownership in Hong Kong, or whose family income exceeding five times the PRH income limits (PRHILs), or whose total net household assets exceeding 100 times the PRHILs, should vacate their PRH flats.
When revising the income limits under the WTP, HA noted that households with an income level reaching five times the PRHILs would belong to the top 7 per cent households in terms of income across different household sizes in Hong Kong. On the other hand, in deriving the asset limits, HA has taken into consideration selling prices of flats in the Sale of Home Ownership Scheme Flats 2016 and the Green Form Subsidised Home Ownership Scheme pilot project King Tai Court. HA considers that households with assets at 100 times the PRHILs should be able to purchase subsidised sale flats (SSFs) recently launched by HA. Households with income or assets exceeding the relevant limits should be relatively capable of taking care of their own housing needs without the need for HA to subsidise them with public resources. Similarly, relatively speaking, households with private domestic property ownership in Hong Kong should not require HA to use public funds to meet their housing needs.
We note that there were media reports that some PRH households have deleted their offspring with income or assets exceeding the relevant limits from the tenancy, in order to meet the requirements under the WTP. However, there are numerous reasons for deleting family members from the tenancy, such as individual household members moving out of the PRH unit concerned due to various reasons, death, emigration, etc. Individual family members may also have purchased SSFs using White Form status. Hence, it would be difficult for us to determine whether the increase in the number of deletion cases has any direct relationship with the revisions to the WTP.
HA has all along been implementing different measures in encouraging young people to live with their senior family members to foster familial harmony among PRH households. In terms of PRH applications, HA's "Harmonious Families Priority Scheme" seeks to encourage younger families and their elderly parents or dependents to opt to live in one single flat or two nearby flats. Eligible applications may enjoy a six-month period of priority processing over the applications by ordinary families. As for families currently living in PRH, HA has put in place the "Harmonious Families Amalgamation Scheme", the "Harmonious Families Transfer Scheme" and the "Harmonious Families Addition Scheme" to allow young people and senior family members to live together or in nearby estates for mutual care.
As for whether more lenient income limits should be introduced under the WTP to encourage young people to live with senior family members, as mentioned earlier, HA has taken into consideration households' ability to take care of their own housing needs in deriving the relevant income limits. Taking four-person households as an example, the income limit under the revised WTP is $135,250. Their ability to take care of their housing needs far exceeds those four-person households awaiting PRH allocation. To ensure rational allocation of PRH resources, it is questionable as to whether the income limits under the WTP should be further relaxed.
The income and asset limits under the revised WTP are different from the previous levels, and PRH households with income not exceeding the relevant levels were not required to declare their assets previously. Furthermore, HA did not require all PRH households to declare private domestic property ownership in Hong Kong in the past. It is therefore difficult for HA to estimate the number of PRH flats that may be recovered as a result of the revised WTP at the moment. In any event, there is shortage in housing supply and PRH is the safety net for the grassroots and low-income families. In light of the increasing demand for PRH, HA has to ensure the rational allocation of PRH resources. The revised WTP convey a clear message to the community that PRH resources should be allocated to those with more pressing housing needs.
I trust that HA would examine relevant policies and their effectiveness in a timely, reasonable and considerate manner to ensure rational allocation of PRH resources.
Ends/Wednesday, October 25, 2017
Issued at HKT 16:05
Issued at HKT 16:05