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Monday, Aug 10, 2020

‘China’s Miami’ in Huizhou beckons to Hong Kong retirees 90 minutes away from border

Huizhou in Guangdong province is 90 minutes from Kowloon, is being pitched as an option for elderly citizens seeking escape from Hong Kong’s hardships. The city is riding on the crest of Beijing’s blueprint to transform the bay area into an economic powerhouse on its own

Huizhou, whose coastline in China’s southern Guangdong province is only a 90-minute drive from Kowloon, is being touted as the country’s own Miami. It’s also being pitched to Hong Kong’s elderly citizens seeking to retire and escape from the city’s hardships.

Better cross-border transport linkages, greater subsidies for elderly health care, and lower care facility costs across the border would attract more Hongkongers to the Greater Bay Area (GBA) city, according to Gary Lam Kwok-hung, chairman of CP Senior Care (Shenzhen).

“Hong Kong has the most expensive real estate in the world and some of the worst living conditions for elderlies in care homes,” Lam said in an interview. Access to hospitals and locally-registered drugs are some of the concerns that have pained retirees in the city, he noted.

The southern coast of Huizhou “truly has the Miami feel” given its subtropical location and long beaches on the southeastern US state of Florida, he added. At just HK$1,000 per square foot, local properties are much more affordable, giving it an edge over the Asian financial hub.

Lam’s business is part of his Dallas, Texas-based CP Holdings, which operates aged-care, assisted living residences and real estate in the US. His group has a 90 per cent stake in CP 18, a venture with developer Country Garden to provide similar services in the mainland market.

The CP 18 project, part of Cogard’s “Ten Mile Silver Beach” resort and residential development, is an 18-storey complex offering 565 beds, leisure and rehabilitation facilities and a medical centre. Only about 100 beds are currently occupied, a third of them by Hongkongers, Lam said.

Stan Group, which controls Hong Kong-listed high-end elderly care home operator Pine Care Group, also recognises the market potential. Last May, it signed a preliminary agreement with Zhongshan-based Dasin Real Estate to build senior care facilities in the bay area.

“Private sector operators in Hong Kong struggle to provide quality services that are affordable to most because of the high land and operating costs,” he added. “We can provide the space and level of services that Hong Kong operators cannot for the same price.”

Some 31 per cent of Hong Kong’s 76,343 elderly care home places were run by non-governmental organisations as of the end of March, while private owners run the rest, according to the Social Welfare Department. About 37 per cent of them are subsidised by the government.

At the end of May, some 39,119 applicants were on the waiting list for subsidised residential care. The average waiting time for a place was over two years, according to official data.

Runaway property prices over the past decade turned Hong Kong into the least affordable residential market on earth, leaving many residents in a quandary. Unemployment in the virus-afflicted economy is at a 15-year high, and about a fifth of the population struggled below the breadline.

Huizhou, which is about 10 times the size of Hong Kong, is just another option for Hong Kong retirees. It borders Guangzhou, the provincial capital, to the west and highly industrialised Shenzhen and Dongguan to the southwest. The local dialect shows characteristics of both Cantonese and Hakka, according to a Chinese University of Hong Kong Journal of Chinese Studies research paper in 2008.

Almost 21,900 Hongkongers are now living in the Guangdong and Fujian provinces, drawing on social security payments without needing to return to Hong Kong.

Another 250-odd have taken up the option of settling in two facilities operated by Hong Kong charities in the Greater Bay Area cities of Shenzhen and Zhaoqing. These facilities are offered to those on the waiting list for subsidised homes.

Huizhou is riding on the crest of Beijing’s blueprint to transform the bay area into an economic powerhouse on its own. The cluster of nine cities in Guangdong province plus Hong Kong and Macau has an estimated gross domestic product equivalent of US$1.65 trillion, equivalent to the 11th largest in the world.

The newest border checkpoint linking Liantang in Shenzhen and Heung Yuen Wai in Hong Kong will shave 30 minutes off the current two-hour taxi journey between CP 18 and Kowloon in the former British colony, Lam said.

Enhanced “portability” of Hong Kong’s social security programmes for the elderly is one of the policy objectives highlighted in the GBA plan issued by the State Council in February last year. Investment in elderly care facilities by Hong Kong investors in bay cities will be supported, it added.

“As costs are much cheaper in Huizhou, the potential for elderly care facilities there serving Hongkongers is huge,” Lam of CP Senior Care said. “But more government policy support is needed.”

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