COMMENTARY

Elderly-Friendly Housing

As its aged population increases and the size of households falls, the proportion of elderly-only households in Hong Kong will increase significantly from 12.9 per cent in 2011 to 20.4 per cent in 2024. Hong Kong has an elderly institutionalisation rate much higher than those of many Asian and Western countries, despite the fact that 85 per cent of persons aged 50 and above have considered ageing at home. There is imminent need for elderly-friendly housing.

According to the World Health Organisation,age-friendly cities have eight particular features: housing, transportation, outdoor space and buildings, community and health services, communication and information, civic participation and employment, respect and social inclusion, as well as social participation.

“Hong Kong lags behind some of the developed countries in the world in this respect,” says Sr Marco Wu, Chairman of the Hong Kong Housing Society (HKHS) and Past President of the HKIS. “In Singapore, there is a Minister for Health and Minister-in-charge of Ageing Issues who looks after elderly-related matters encompassing all features of age-friendly cities. In Hong Kong, however, there is no such a Bureau Director nor is there an integrated, elderly-specific housing and healthcare policy. We think elderly initiatives need totality rather than compartmentalisation with its attendant silo effect.”  

There is also a lack of government standards for the provision of facilities catering to an elderly population. “The government’s Planning Standards and Guidelines make provisions for facilities ranging from nurseries to secondary schools according to the youth population. However, there are few provision standards for elderly flats, elderly community and day-care centres or residential care homes,” Wu continues. “In many cases, elderly services can thus only be provided as retrospective provisions.”

Often called a housing laboratory, the HKHS has been trying out pilot schemes with various models for the government, public and private developers to consider, one of them being the Ageing-In-Place (AIP) Scheme for lower-income elderly people. The HKHS has been providing more than 900 elderly flats in nine rental estates since the early 1970s. Also, in all of its 20 rental housing estates, there is now home modification, health assessment and services, psychosocial and neighbourhood support, as well as active ageing activities through the AIP Scheme.


“According to a Social Return on Investment (SROI) study conducted by the Hong Kong Institute of Social Impact Analysts commissioned by the HKHS in 2014–2016, for every HKD1 invested, the AIP scheme generated HKD4.5 of social value in return,” says Wu. “Residents with targeted intervention have reported increase in well-being, in terms of physical health, social support, and maintenance of cognition, as well as reduced falls and less depression.” The elderly become more confident in staying in their community rather than seeking institutional care.

The HKHS also has purpose-built elderly-friendly housing with units for lifelong (from age 60 onwards) lease on upper floors, accompanied by residential care homes and elderly facilities on lower floors. There are two types: the Senior Citizen Residences Scheme (SEN) for middle-income groups, which are means-tested and subsidised by the HKHS further to government exemption of land premiums (i.e. Jolly Place in Tseung Kwan O and Cheerful Court in Ngau Tau Kok); and the Joyous Living Project for non-means tested, higher-aspiration groups, which operates on a self-financing model as the HKHS paid land premiums at full market value (i.e. The Tanner Hill in North Point).

It is worth noting that according to a survey undertaken by the University of Hong Kong in 2014, over 90 per cent of the younger generation are willing to live close to their parents in separate units within the same building or neighbourhood, despite only 25 per cent of them choosing to live with their elderly parents. The HKHS thus has a Mixed Housing Model to encourage the younger generation to purchase residential flats on upper floors and the elderly to live in rental flats on lower floors (i.e. Harmony Place in Shau Kei Wan).

“There are urgent needs for all models across all sectors,” says Wu, who wishes to encourage more mixed development models in future. He also hopes that the private sector can render support even in less distinct ways, such as increasing elderly-friendly facilities within their developments.

As for existing private housing blocks, the HKHS recently completed the four-year pilot Elderly Safe Living Scheme (ESLS) in selected districts to provide professional advice to elderly home owners and dwellers to improve domestic environments based on elderly needs. There is also the Building Maintenance Grant Scheme for Elderly Owners (BMGS) with a grant of up to HKD40,000 for building repairs, maintenance and improvement of building safety.

Prof Francis Wong of the Department of Building and Real Estate at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University says that in spite of the government scheme to purchase places from elderly nursing homes, the state of some homes have led to concerns about quality, affordability and emotional well-being of the elderly.

Ageing in place, coupled with an elderly-friendly community, is a better alternative for the ‘young old’ and those who are not yet in constant need of professional care. “The need remains pressing despite the fact that the Housing Authority and the Housing Society are the largest suppliers of elderly-friendly housing. The previous practice, for instance, of housing two elderly people who did not know each other in the same unit, ran into trouble due to personal conflicts. Purpose-built elderly-friendly housing is a viable measure, though the quantity remains limited thus far.”

Wong acknowledges that most existing blocks did not take elderly-friendliness into consideration when they were being built. Those built by the Housing Authority and the HKHS, with social responsibility in mind, have better chances of being enhanced, such as having lifts installed. Old private buildings, however, have issues due to divided ownership and the developer no longer being in the market.

“Although urban renewal is a way to rebuild the area with universal access, it may also lead to the elderly being displaced elsewhere as property prices surge after renewal,” Wong notes. “Developers need incentives, and there are concerns that provisions for the elderly may affect property price.”

Sr Edgar Li, the HKIS’ Vice-Chairman of Guangzhou Forum and former Vice-Chairman of Housing Policy Panel, suggests incentives for developers. To encourage hotel development in the 1980s, hotels were allowed to be treated as non-domestic buildings for site coverage and plot ratio purposes so that certain supporting facilities could be exempted from GFA calculations. Similar to the hotel concession, an elderly housing concession for public or private elderly-friendly housing can be introduced as an incentive measure to increase the maximum plot ratio of Class C sites from 10 to 15, and from 8 to 15 for Class-A sites. These buildings in extremely high demand in the society have to meet the specific criteria and the required standard of provision in space and facility.

Laws and regulations should be in place to ensure that such housing will be managed by elderly-related NGOs or other licensed operators, and that changes of use are prohibited unless approved by the Buildings Department. The endorsement of the Social Welfare Department should also be needed. Surveyors, on the other hand, will play important roles in building control, planning or leasing strategy and facility management.

An elderly-friendly building should have common areas with wider corridors and lift lobbies, bigger lifts, and a temporary refuge space for wheelchair users during emergencies. A bed-bound elderly person may be transferred to medical facilities within the same building using a lift designed for beds and through a corridor wide enough for beds to turn. There should also be allowance made in the units for wheelchairs to manoeuvre and be parked in all rooms.

Li goes on to suggest that GFA exemption be granted to other buildings whose lower-floor common areas can be converted for GIC purposes into more elderly care facilities and venues for activities. As long as fire safety, structural regulations and other legal measures are respected, the option of partial conversion is highly feasible. “We can take reference from recent conversion projects in mainland China, which are often more advanced in providing incentive measures,” Li points out.

As for urban renewal, Li thinks that it involves not only the replacement of pre-war buildings by newer buildings with lifts, but also the formulation of facilitation measures for the rejuvenation of older buildings and/or conversion to target use or industry buildings. This is with exemption of plot ratio and site coverage for adding lifts, and link bridges if required, to facilitate the circulation of elderly people from the street to the upper floors, as well as communal elderly care facilities, which can then be turned into an elderly-friendly community district.

“Once the direction is determined, technical issues can be solved by planning and coordination. For instance, concerns over frequent ambulance visits can be solved by planned routes with less interference to the public. In our ageing society, those opposed or indifferent to elderly-friendly housing today might become users of it in a few decades; public sentiment will become more positive. An Elderly Bureau should first of all be set up to provide incentives, encourage professional input and coordinate efforts among departments,” Li reiterates.


THE HONG KONG INSTITUTE OF SURVEYORS
Established in 1984, The Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors (HKIS) is the only surveying professional body incorporated by ordinance in Hong Kong. As of 13 October 2017, the number of members reached 9,726, of which 6,399 were corporate members, 78 were associate members and 3,249 were probationers and students.

HKIS’ work includes setting standards for professional services and performance, establishing codes of ethics, determining requirements for admission as professional surveyors, and encouraging members to upgrade skills through continuing professional development.

HKIS has an important consultative role in government policy making and on issues affecting the profession. We have advised the government on issues such as unauthorised building works, building safety campaigns, problems of property management, town planning and development strategies, construction quality and housing problems. They are working on amendments to standard forms of building contract and have issued guidance notes on floor area measurement methods.

They have an established presence in the international arenas, overseas connections and entered into reciprocal agreements with professional surveying and valuation institutes in the United Kingdom, Australia and Singapore, recognising the counterparts’ members’ qualifications. In addition, HKIS is a member of various leading international surveying organisations. 

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