No-frills homes promise is missing in new guidelines

HONG KONG: Back in October, Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said she hoped the Urban Renewal Authority would provide no-frills, affordable homes whenever possible.

By no-frills, she meant they would have no clubhouses, no unnecessary facilities and just small parking areas. The move toward cheaper flats was a response to public demand for more affordable housing.

But a new, 23-page working strategy for the authority, released on Feb 24, makes not mention of no-frills housing.

A spokesman for the authority said: "It will not be an across-the-board policy to offer no-frills flats in every project. We will do it in some cases only." He said the minister would announce the implementation details later.

In a pilot project last year in Tai Kok Tsui, the authority set out conditions in the tender document requiring half of the 72 flats to be smaller than 500 square feet. The bid was won by Sino Land in December.

The new strategy, which will apply to future projects to be announced by the authority, was formulated after a two-year review led by the Development Bureau with public consultation. Another two-month consultation was conducted after the draft text was issued last October.

During the consultation, the Real Estate Developers Association said the authority should not go solo except in projects that are financially weak. It also opposed the authority involving itself in areas where private developers had acquired most properties. In response, the government said the authority had the right to step in if home owners jointly make a request for redevelopment because the building conditions are poor.

The first application for the new strategy will be a project in Kowloon City, where more than 1,000 buildings are older than 50 years.

A highlight of the new policy is a "flat-for-flat" scheme. It gives homeowners an option of moving into a flat built by the authority in Kai Tak or one in nearby projects, if they do not take cash compensation.

The replacement flats will be sold to the owners at market price and can be resold on the market. But because the market value of a replacement flat could be higher than the offered cash - calculated as the equivalent value of a seven-year-old flat in the same neighbourhood - residents would have to pay the difference between the two.

Wong Ho-yin, of activist group People Planning in Action, said he was disappointed the revised strategy did not address this "harsh" aspect of the flat-for-flat option.

"Owners can be asked to pay tens of thousands of dollars to get a replacement flat if they don't take cash. Probably not many can stay and enjoy the fruits of redevelopment," Wong said.

"I'm also disappointed the government fails to promise to build more affordable homes in future."

Another highlight of the new strategy is the formation of a district urban renewal forum in different districts. Community representatives and professionals are to advise the authority as to which areas should be given priority for redevelopment and building repairs. The forums and social service teams to assist residents will be supported by a HK$500 million trust fund.

Lau Wai-ming, vice-chairman of Kowloon City District Council, said the council had identified "Thirteen Streets" at the fringe of the former Kai Tak airport and nearby "Five Streets" as areas to be redeveloped first because of the poor condition of buildings.--- SCMP

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