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Thursday, October 6, 2016, 00:18

New initiative to provide affordable housing to disadvantaged

By Li Yinze

HONG KONG - A public-private partnership - which aims to provide affordable housing to disadvantaged families - was unveiled on Wednesday. It will unite government efforts with those of social enterprises to help some of the most needy people in Hong Kong.

Light Housing, located in Sham Tseng, Tsuen Wan, is ready to accommodate more than 40 families by the end of the year. Each unit measures between 300 and 400 square feet and has a balcony and a separate kitchen and bathroom.

Struggling families with three or more members will be considered after a referral by social workers. Rents are much lower than market prices to ensure tenants can afford them. Tenancy typically lasts for a year; eligible occupants can stay for up to three years.

The arrangement helps them save money and get a better financial footing when the time comes to move out.

The building was converted from a five-story lodging built in 1960 to house factory workers.

Some HK$20 million of corporate philanthropy funded the conversion. Architects and construction and renovation companies involved also charged fees lower than market rates. A property management company offered to provide its services for free.

The government takes a token rent in order to lease the piece of land for six years.

It entrusted the project in late 2015 to Light Be, the social enterprise that oversees the initiative. It was done without conducting the usual tender exercise or inviting other NGOs to compete.

Chief Secretary for Administration Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor told Wednesday’s launch ceremony:  “We need understanding, cooperation, as well as support from local communities in boosting housing supply.

“The government can’t make it alone,” she added.

Ricky Yu Wai-yip, founder and CEO of Light Be, said the economic benefits were not the only concern of the enterprises involved.

He admits the program is on a small scale in terms of the number of housing units provided.

But Yu explained that its significance lies in creating an innovative approach and also in fostering social cohesion. It aims to achieve sustainable housing and also to be a model for poverty alleviation.

More than a dozen families have already moved in. A 41-year-old driver, surnamed Yeung, moved there with his wife and two children a month ago.

“I don’t earn much,” Yeung said, “I have to feed four people. It is tough, especially after the second child was born.”

Yeung told reporters that their living conditions have improved a lot. With the current rent only a quarter of his monthly income, he can save money which he hopes to do for up to three years.

Light Be started running an affordable housing program called Light Home in 2013. Now managing 80 housing units, this has so far benefited 300 people from 130 single-parent and other needy families.

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