A coalition formed by tenants of a new Hong Kong public housing estate currently used by the government as a Covid-19 quarantine camp has demanded that flats be returned to them next month and rents waived for a year.
Around 20 members of the alliance filed a complaint at the Legislative Council on Monday, accusing the government of upending their lives as they are unable to move into the flats at Chun Yeung Estate in Fo Tan, Sha Tin, that were allocated to them months ago.
They wanted the government to return the flats to them in July and waive their rent for a year as compensation for the extra expenses incurred during the extended wait for their new homes.
The newly built housing estate was turned into a makeshift quarantine centre in mid-February to accommodate travellers returning from high-risk countries and areas for two weeks amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The five-block estate with 4,800 flats makes up more than one-third of the targeted 13,000 public flats to be supplied in the 2019-20 financial year.
A total of 1,739 flats at the estate have been turned into quarantine units, accounting for 80 per cent of the government’s virus-related isolation facilities. Of them, 481 had been housing 1,025 people as of 9am on Monday, according to the Centre for Health Protection.
“I feel so helpless. We don’t know when the government will hand over the flats to us,” Li Wai-mang, 53, a taxi driver and father of two, said. “Why are they keeping hold of 4,000 flats for only a few hundred people?”
To compensate those who had accepted advance allocation offers of flats at Chun Yeung Estate, authorities gave them a one-off allowance of HK$6,000 (US$774) per household.
Affected tenants were also given an option to apply for temporary housing in Tuen Mun or cancel their current offer and be reallocated to another housing estate in their chosen district.
But many said the allowance was not enough to cover their expenses.
For many parents, living in one district and sending their children to a school in another posed a headache.
“I registered my daughter at a school in Sha Tin in February. But since we can’t yet move in, I had to make special arrangements with her old school in Ho Man Tin so she could receive education,” Chan Siu-qan, a 43-year-old single mother living in Mong Kok, said.
Chan said she could not send her daughter to a school in another district because that would make her commute to work at a restaurant in Wan Chai too long.
“I can’t afford to lose my job. I don’t know whether I should change my daughter’s school district again,” she said.
Meanwhile, the government is building additional quarantine facilities, with construction at Penny’s Bay camp on Lantau Island expected to be completed in phases between July and September, Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee said in a written reply in the Legislative Council last Wednesday. The project will provide around 1,500 quarantine units.
The health minister added that authorities would stop using Chun Yeung Estate as a quarantine centre as soon as the pandemic situation stabilised in the city and there was no local community outbreak with unknown sources.
But the coalition dismissed the government’s assurance as “vague”, pushing for a specific time frame for moving in.
“It seems like a never-ending cycle. It’s almost like the government doesn’t want to give us back our homes,” Li said.
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