Following is a question by the Hon Chan Kin-por and a written reply by the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Ms Eva Cheng, in the Legislative Council today (April 22):
While all the units in Jolly Place and Cheerful Court which are the elderly estates constructed by the Hong Kong Housing Society (HKHS) have been rented out, there are at present still about 200 elderly people on the waiting list for such units, and the elderly housing project developed by HKHS at Tanner Hill in North Point will not be completed until 2013 at the earliest. This reflects that the provision of elderly housing, particularly that for middle-class elderly people, has failed to meet the demand. Moreover, the Third Legislative Council passed a motion at its meeting on April 9, 2008 urging the Government to expeditiously formulate a clear policy on elderly housing. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) of the respective demands for various types of elderly housing in the next five and 10 years according to the Government’s assessment; whether it has assessed if elderly housing and residential care services currently provided or subsidised by the Government are adequate to meet such demands; if the assessment result is in the affirmative, of the details and the relevant statistics; if the assessment result is in the negative, whether the Government will adjust the existing policy to cope with the demands for elderly housing in the future, such as exploring the development of elderly housing by the Hong Kong Housing Authority rather than relying solely on HKHS to provide such units, formulating land policies to complement elderly housing in terms of land supply, land grant and land premium, etc., and providing land to non-profit-making bodies at concessionary prices or for free for the purpose of building elderly housing;
(b) as the impact of the financial tsunami is emerging, an increasing number of retiring persons, especially those middle-class elderly people who may no longer have the financial means to live in private housing but are not eligible to apply for public housing, are worried about their livelihood after retirement, whether the Government will increase the supply of elderly housing in response to the needs of these “sandwich class” elderly people; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(c) besides the actions mentioned in the Progress Report on the above motion submitted by the authorities in July 2008, whether the Government has implemented other new measures to address the housing needs of the elderly hitherto; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
The rationale behind the concept of “elderly housing” is for elders to live together so that they will receive one-stop services. Jolly Place in Tseung Kwan O and Cheerful Court in Jordan Valley of the Hong Kong Housing Society’s (HKHS) “Senior Citizens Residence (SEN) Scheme”, which provide on a trial basis one-stop services comprising leased accommodation, recreational and medical/care services for eligible elders under a lease-for-life arrangement, are examples of “elderly housing”. The Government is currently following up with HKHS on another two elderly housing projects in the former Tanner Hill Estate in Tanner Road, North Point, and Tin Shui Wai Area 115 respectively.
The aforementioned mode of elderly housing undoubtedly provides elders with an additional choice of housing. That said, the objective of the Government’s elderly policy is to promote “ageing in the community”, to encourage mutual care among old and young family members and mutual support among neighbours, and to ensure that elders living in different locations may receive various types of support conveniently. Therefore, our present policy is to assist elders to age in the community by strengthening the role of family in mutual support and enhancing the supporting services and facilities for elders, so that elders could have access to various types of welfare, medical and community services and facilities conveniently regardless of where they live, rather than requiring elders to live together.
My reply to the three parts of the question is set out below:
(a) Like the demographic structure of many other developed economies, as a result of social development, Hong Kong has an increasing proportion of elderly population. According to the “Population Projection 2007-2036” of the Census and Statistics Department (C&SD), one out of every eight persons in Hong Kong is aged 65 or above. It is estimated that by 2033, on average about one out of every four persons in Hong Kong will be elders.
Caring for the elders has always been one of the major policies and directions of the Government. The Government will continue to adjust and enhance its policies taking into account the demographic changes, with a view to ensuring that elders receive proper care.
Different elders have different housing needs. Elders who have long term care needs and cannot receive sufficient care at their domestic homes may choose to stay in residential care homes for the elderly (RCHEs), including private and Government subsidised RCHEs. At present, there are 753 RCHEs in Hong Kong which provide a total of 75,000 residential care places (including about 49,000 private/self-financing places and about 26,000 subsidised places). As far as the private/self-financing residential care places are concerned, there are currently about 16,000 vacant places in the market. As for the subsidised residential care places, the Government has been allocating considerable resources to increase the supply of places progressively. In this connection, the number of subsidised residential care places has increased from 16,000 to 26,000 over the past 10 years or so, representing an increase of 60%.
It is the wish of the majority of the elders to stay in their domestic homes. Elders who have better self-care ability and can receive sufficient care at their domestic homes will choose to live at home. Some of them are living with their spouses and other family members, and some of them are living alone. The types of housing which they live in include public rental housing (PRH), subsidised sale flats and private housing. According to the General Household Survey conducted by the C&SD in the 4th quarter of 2008, of the elders who were not institutionalised, 37% lived in PRH, 18% lived in subsidised sale flats, and the remaining lived in various types of private housing.
The Government provides low-income families who cannot afford private rental housing, including elders, with subsidised PRH flats. At present, there are about 7 000 elderly applicants on the waiting list and their average waiting time is about 1.2 years, which is lower than the average of about 1.9 year for general family applicants. The Hong Kong Housing Authority (HA) will continue to actively coordinate with policy bureaux and departments concerned to identify suitable sites for PRH development in different districts to meet the needs of the community, including the elders.
With regard to the needs of the elderly PRH tenants, while it is not the policy of HA to provide elderly-only PRH, HA is committed to providing elderly PRH tenants with a safe and convenient living environment and making PRH a suitable place for needy elders to live. HA has since 2002 adopted “universal design” in all of its new projects. The objective of “universal design” is to provide a living environment suitable for tenants of all ages. Under this concept, HA has introduced various types of elderly-friendly designs, such as lever type door handles, and has enhanced the design of the passageways of PRH estates. In 2006, HA implemented the “Barrier-free Access Improvement Programme” to enhance facilities such as ramps, handrails and voice synthesisers in lifts, to make it more convenient for needy elders and the disabled. Also, HA implemented the “Estate Improvement Scheme” to renovate and add recreational and leisure facilities suitable for elders, and provide lifts in some of the PRH estates to enhance the accessibility for elders. The implementation of the aforementioned measures has enhanced the living environment of PRH to further cope with the need of elders. HA will continue to explore possible means to further enhance the facilities in PRH estates.
Besides, HA has put in place a series of enhanced housing arrangements for fostering harmonious families so as to encourage harmony and mutual support among generations. Elders may apply together with their young offspring for PRH under the Harmonious Families Priority Scheme and enjoy a credit waiting time of six months, irrespective of their choice of living under one roof or separately in two nearby PRH units. For those opting for living under one roof, they can even opt for PRH flats in the Urban District. Existing elderly PRH tenants may apply for transfer to estates near to that of their offspring through the Harmonious Families Transfer Scheme, or apply for amalgamation of tenancies with that of their offspring and be transferred to a PRH unit of suitable size under the Harmonious Families Amalgamation Scheme. To encourage inter-generational support, HA has also implemented the Harmonious Families Addition Scheme to allow elderly tenants to add adult offspring into their tenancies. HA will continue to implement the above schemes to benefit more elders in need.
The Government places equal emphasis on the needs of elders who are not living in PRH. Different bureaux have relevant policies and measures to enable elders living in different locations to receive and enjoy conveniently various types of welfare, medical and community services and facilities. Also, the Government encourages mutual care among family members. In fact, quite a considerable number of elders choose to live together with, or near to, their younger offspring.
The concept of “elderly housing” does provide elders with an additional choice of housing. In fact, if private organisations consider that there is demand for this type of housing, they may consider developing elderly housing projects on private land. If HKHS or other non-government organisations wish to seek the Government’s subsidy and support in developing elderly housing projects, relevant Government departments will consider them carefully, taking into account relevant factors including the effective use of public resources and the land premium consideration.
(b) and (c) The focus of our existing subsidised housing policy is to provide PRH to low-income families who cannot afford private rental housing. As mentioned above, HA already has a comprehensive policy to help elders in need of PRH, and various measures to encourage mutual care among elders and other family members. Also, HA facilitates elders to age in the community through “universal design” and enhancement of facilities.
It is possible for elders to receive proper support without having to live together. The Government will continue to enhance the welfare, medical and recreational services so that elders may make use of the services conveniently regardless of where they live. Also, the Government will encourage mutual care among old and young family members and mutual support among neighbours.
Regarding “elderly housing”, as mentioned above, if HKHS or other non-government organisations wish to seek government’s support in developing such projects, relevant Government departments will examine carefully the detailed proposals taking into account the relevant factors.
The Government has already approved in principle in September 2008 for the HKHS to carry out two elderly housing projects in the former Tanner Hill Estate in Tanner Road, North Point and Tin Shui Wai Area 115 respectively, on the condition that HKHS will pay the Government the market value land premium reflecting the restrictive use of the elderly units (i.e. the restriction that the units may only be leased to elders aged 60 or above). Given that these two projects will not enjoy nominal or concessionary land premium, they are different from the two SEN trial projects (i.e. the Jolly Place and the Cheerful Court) which enjoyed nominal land premium. HKHS may therefore decide on their own the eligibility criteria for elders living in the elderly units and other arrangements, including taking in elders of various income/asset profile who are willing to pay for the rental flats and the services under a market-driven approach.
The elderly housing project in Tanner Road, North Point will provide about 520 elderly housing units. The Tin Shui Wai Area 115 elderly housing project will be developed in two phases and will in total provide about 900 elderly housing units. The aforementioned two elderly housing projects, together with the Jolly Place and the Cheerful Court, will provide a total of about 2000 elderly housing units to meet market needs.