Ombudsman probes public housing vacancy rate

The Ombudsman is probing the Housing Department as the vacancy rate of some public housing has reached up to 60 percent.

Winnie Chiu Wai-yin, the Ombudsman, on Thursday announced an immediate investigation to examine the arrangements for Housing for Senior Citizens (HSC) and Converted One-Person (C1P) units by the Housing Department.

HD information showed that as of June 30, 2021, the vacancy rate of both C1P units and HSC units of a design similar to that of C1P units was 60 percent, while HSC units of other designs registered a vacancy rate of 10 to 15 percent.

The Office of The Ombudsman also received complaints from non-elderly public rental housing applicants who had never applied to join the Express Flat Allocation Scheme (EFAS) but were allocated an HSC unit and lost one chance of flat allocation upon refusing the offer.

The EFAS provides eligible waiting list applicants the chance of advanced flat allocation, but units under the scheme are usually less popular. Some flats may have involved unpleasant incidents, while some others may be less desirable in terms of the floor level, the orientation or the internal layout.

The HD information also showed that over the past five years, there were more than 1,000 refusals of allocation each year by public rental housing applicants who had been allocated an HSC unit.

Chiu said, "Given the persistent excess demand and the increasingly longer average waiting time for public rental housing in Hong Kong, the optimization of housing resources involving HSC and C1P units is an issue worth exploring."

"In this light, we are launching this direct investigation to examine the allocation, occupancy, and day-to-day management of HSC and C1P units, the progress and effectiveness of related improvement measures, and the HD's long-term arrangements."

The Housing Authority said it would cooperate with the investigation and had constantly reviewed the situation of HSC and C1P units in accordance with social development. It added that all residents of HSC units are senior citizens while more than 95 percent of C1P residents are senior citizens or households with senior citizen(s).

The HSC scheme was introduced during the 1980s and 1990s, and the HSC were designed for single public housing applicants ageing 60 or above. HSC is a care home-style public rental housing accommodation with 24-hour welfare worker service and shared living room, kitchen, and/or bathroom facilities.

The Department also provided C1P units by dividing an ordinary public rental housing flat into two or three smaller units with shared bathrooms and kitchen facilities to cope with the great demand for one-person units.

In 2000, the Hong Kong Housing Authority decided to cease the construction of HSC and abolish C1P units. It subsequently implemented various measures such as gradually converting C1P units and some HSC units back into ordinary public rental housing flats and lifting the age limit for HSC while including the remaining HSC units in the Express Flat Allocation Scheme.