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ONCE MOVED IN, SETTLED FOR LIFE?

Mr. Chan Bing Woon, LLB(London), SBS, MBE, JP, Hon.FIHKIH 

Being ex-Chairman of the Eastern District Board, and member of the Housing Branch's Appeals Committee, I have come across several cases of public housing resources being unfairly utilised, which have become quite prevalent these days. Reasons cited in appeals were ridiculous and absurd, e.g. an appellant's family has already emigrated, leaving his public housing unit in the care of his relatives, or appellants have already moved out of the public housing unit, living in another privately-owned property, etc., etc. to illustrate my points. 

Once there has been a complaint received by the Housing Department, referring to a unit in a certain housing block in Chai Wan, being left vacant for a long period. After 30 times' investigation into the matter, it was found that the main door was locked, with low usage of water and electricity, and no cooking utensils, nor fuel inside. In yet another investigation, it was found that the unit had already been taken over by some relatives living next door. And that family had already moved into a privately-owned property elsewhere in Hong Kong Island! When the Housing Department decided to terminate the tenancy of this unit, that tenant lodged an appeal against this decision; citing the reason being that since the majority of his time would be spent outdoors working, he had less time staying in the unit, and his relatives next door had helped him with his food preparation, which was why his unit's usage of water and electricity was low. Later on, that tenant withdrew his appeal and moved out of the unit voluntarily, which had also put a stop to the pending appeal hearing.

Another case also happened in the Eastern District. The Housing Department received a complaint that in the North Point Estate, there was a unit being left vacant for a long time. After investigation, it was found that the tenant had already emigrated to New Zealand and that tenant also owned another luxurious private property (including two car park spaces) in the Hong Kong Island, The Housing Department therefore terminated its tenancy agreement.

When that particular tenant learnt about this, he lodged an appeal against this decision, pointing out that he was being forced to emigrate out of his own will, due to the fact that his son was sick and truanted regularly; his wife got into trouble with some rascals and could not sleep well at night. Therefore, his wife and he took turns to stay in the public housing unit, until his son finishes his schooling, and they would reunite in this flat. As about his other private property, he said it was only for investment purpose.

After consideration by the Appeal Committee, as that unit had been vacant for a long time, the decision of termination of its tenancy agreement would stay. It considered that even if the tenants would move back to Hong Kong from New Zealand, they could live in their self-financed property;

In fact, these kinds of cases did not only happen in the Eastern District. There were also quite a lot of' 'occupancy-taken-by-force'' happening in other districts as well. This fact has proved that some families did not need public housing assistance at all, but they still employed different means of defending themselves, hoping they could retain the public housing unit as their own private property, or even as their life-long property - 'once moved in, settled for life'. This would amount to a waste of housing resources and a denial to others of their rights to move into a public housing unit.  May I then ask: 'Would the public housing resources be fairly distributed to those who are really in need?'

For a family that has long received public housing assistance, not to automatically return the unit, when their economic situation has improved, and they no longer need to live in such a unit, they are lack of civic duty, lack of civic knowledge, and unethical. In fact, other than retrieving their public housing unit, wouldn't it be possible to also consider penalising them in some way, e.g. paying a fine, as a warning gesture? This topic is worth widely discussed.

As a lawyer, to protect social equity and social righteousness is very important. I advocate that the Housing Department should take proper steps, to encourage those public housing tenants, who are economically-viable, to give up their units, so that those who are really in need could be arranged to move into such units.  Organizations in society should agree with the idea of a fair distribution of public housing resources, support public housing tenants' asset investigations by the Housing Department, and provide welfare for the majority of residents, who are really in need of housing.

 

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