United Court: A tripartite initiative to provide affordable people-oriented housing
United Court (UC) in Tung Tau, Yuen Long is a large-scale transitional social housing project, which provides a comfortable home for 1,800 underprivileged families in Hong Kong. It especially targets those who have been in the queue for public housing for longer than three years and those living under dismal and appalling conditions (such as subdivided units). Ultimately, some 5,000 families will benefit during the six years operation period. Apart from accommodation, UC provides a platform for residents to build a closely knitted internal community as well as engage with the surrounding neighbourhoods, mutually benefitting one another, and making it a distinctive transitional housing project in Hong Kong.
The Social Issue
The severe shortage of affordable housing is a long-standing issue in Hong Kong. It has been reported that the Hong Kong median income household would require 20.7 years of 100% of income saved to buy a home1. It is, therefore, unsurprising that a large segment of Hong Kong’s population is unable to afford housing.
The Hong Kong SAR Government Annual Long-Term Housing Strategy Report 2022 noted that there were 127,500 inadequately housed households. Among all, 73% (93,075) were living in subdivided units, which are referred to as small, partitioned units within converted flats in old tenement buildings. The flats are often extremely cramped and in unhealthy conditions.
New legislation on tenancy control on subdivided units (i.e., Part IVA of the Landlord and Tenant (Consolidation) Ordinance (Cap. 7)) came into force in January 2022. The tenancy control measures aim to provide reasonable and effective protection to subdivided unit tenants, particularly in providing them with much-needed security of tenure and protecting them from unwarranted rent hikes on tenancy renewal.
Government has tried to address this housing issue by offering more public rental housing (PRH) to low-income families, sadly the waiting list is still very long – as at end September 2022, the average waiting time for general applicants who were housed to PRH in the past 12 months was 5.6 years. All these factors made it clear that there is a great demand for affordable housing and urgency for better living environments. Whilst the Government pledges to shorten the waiting time, all sectors of Hong Kong society must work together collaboratively to provide an interim solution to housing.
The Shared Value Strategy
In 2018, transitional housing was announced as one of six new housing initiatives by Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, the then Hong Kong SAR Chief Executive. The Task Force established under the then Transport and Housing Bureau aimed to actively assist and facilitate various short-term initiatives proposed and implemented by the community with a view to increasing the supply of transitional housing. The initiative relies on Government departments and private developers to contribute their old facilities or idle land to be converted into transitional housing.
UC is one of these newly built projects. Under the initiative of Government, Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui Welfare Council (Welfare Council), partnered with Sun Hung Kai Properties (SHKP) to develop this large-scale transitional housing. The project was launched in early 2020. By using modular integrated construction, which both sped up construction and saved costs, UC was available for occupation in mid-May 2022.
The Key Stakeholders
The then Transport and Housing Bureau played a bridging role in this project by providing policy support, facilitating cross departments representatives to provide input, providing a funding of HK$990 million for the development as well as overseeing and monitoring the whole project.
The Welfare Council, which is a charity that provides multifaceted service in line with its service philosophy “Personalised Service, Holistic Care”, to “Transform Lives”, served as the overall leader of this project. It managed the project design, construction, and operation. It is also responsible for providing residents with a variety of people-oriented community services.
SHKP, who has developed several landmark properties in Yuen Long since the late 1970s, leased the land to be developed for a minimum of eight years at a nominal annual rent of HK$1, and was responsible for project planning design, early-stage government submissions and basic site formation. SHKP also provided advice on tender strategy and preparation.
There were also inputs from various project partners across different sectors, including CLP Power Hong Kong and Yuen Long District Council.
Current and Future Outlook
UC caters for both the physical need and overall well-being of low-income families. In terms of physical need, it provides affordable and decent housing for low-income families who might once have lived in crowded unhealthy subdivided flats. It covers a site area of 250,000 square feet at Shan Pui Road, Tung Tau, Yuen Long. It provides 1,800 flats that will benefit 5,000 families or some 10,000 people. A separate toilet and cooking area is included in each unit. Based on design thinking and a human-centred approach, recreational areas and various themed activity zones were built to create a harmonious living environment.
UC features people-oriented, engaging facilities, including social enterprise stores and weekend markets, providing residents with diverse community engagement opportunities which an aim to build a caring, supportive, and inclusive community together.
The Welfare Council will provide a first-of-its-kind Well-Being Index that should promote healthy living habits, positive energy, and confidence amongst residents. The Council will also provide residents with services based on their physical, mental, and spiritual health, in the hope of developing a systematic service operation model unique to community housing. This will include occupational counselling to help enhance residents’ work competitiveness and increase their employability.
As UC has just been in operation for six months, as of December 2022, we look forward to reporting on the future benefits and impacts that all parties will be able to deliver through housing for Hong Kong’s underprivileged.
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About the Author
Comms and research intern