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URA launches new initiative to promote rehabilitation

VThe Urban Renewal Authority (URA) announced today (Monday) a new Rehabilitation initiative with a total budget of $210 million to assist owners of multi-owned old buildings to carry out rehabilitation work to improve their living environment.

The initiative, comprising two different schemes, aims at offering assistance either in kind or in interest-free loan to hundreds of buildings in the urban area over the next five years.

Announcing the schemes today, URA Managing Director, Mr Billy Lam said: "both schemes are intended for residential buildings which are 30 years' old or above and are located within or near URA's urban renewal target areas. The reason why we are having two schemes is that, based on the experience of the pilot projects conducted last year, we found that there are two large categories of owners with distinctly different needs.

"As owners corporations are indispensable for getting a rehabilitation project off the ground as well as maintaining a rehabilitated building in the long run, we have made it a condition in both schemes that the existence of owners corporations is a pre-qualification for joining," Mr. Lam explained.

One of the schemes is designed as a trial scheme under which the URA would provide technical guidance and rehabilitation material incentive to an estimated 140 buildings comprising about 8,000 units. The material incentive will amount to 10 per cent of the full cost of a project or $3,000 per unit, whichever is the lower.

"These are buildings subject to statutory actions under the Buildings Department's Co-ordinated Maintenance of Buildings Scheme or "Blitz" operations or other relevant statutory orders. If these buildings owners wish to take the opportunity to rehabilitate the whole building for good, the URA would be happy to assist," Mr. Lam said.

"We have had some very successful cases applying this model in several pilot projects in Tai Kok Tsui. The owners become 'motivated' when they receive the statutory orders. The only problem is that they lacked experience and perhaps also a bit of additional funding. This is where the URA comes in," he said.

The other scheme, for which the URA has set aside $190 million for the next five years, is an interest-free loan scheme designed for owners who would carry out rehabilitation for their buildings without receiving any statutory orders.

The URA estimates that the loan scheme would potentially cover 400 buildings comprising 24,000 units.

Individual owners can apply for a loan up to $100,000, repayable in 60 months. For elderly and disabled owners who are welfare recipients and are in genuine financial difficulties, the URA may consider offering a grant not exceeding $10,000 per household instead of a loan.

A key feature of the URA initiative is that the urban renewal body is teaming up with a total of 10 NGOs to promote the schemes. The NGOs include works- or building management-related professional bodies, social work organisations and local branch of political parties which enjoy strong working relationship with owners corporations of residential buildings in old districts such as Sham Shui Po, Yau Ma Tei, Tai Kok Tsui and Mong Kok. These NGOs have pledged to help promote the schemes through their networks in the coming year. Some of them will also help owners to form owners corporations.

"This echoes the idea mentioned by Mr Michael Suen, Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands at a Legislative Council meeting last week that the Government was considering the feasibility of seeking the participation of NGOs in fostering a stronger building management culture at the district level," Mr Lam said.

Asked how optimistic he was about public response to the schemes, Mr. Lam said: "It is difficult to predict the public's response to a new initiative, especially because there has been such a widespread neglect of building care in the old districts for many years.

"Building decay is a formidable and deteriorating problem. Someone has to do something before all hope of solving the problem is lost within the next decade."

According to government statistics, about 11,000 residential buildings or roughly 30 per cent of the total in Hong Kong are without any form of management structure. Another estimate published in the Government's Urban Renewal Strategy says that there are about 2,000 dilapidated residential buildings in the old districts and the number will increase to 3,000 in 10 years' time.

"Redevelopment alone will not be sufficient to solve or contain the problem. Rehabilitation and preventive maintenance must be used also as a strategic solution to help speed up urban renewal, as the Chief Executive has said in his Policy Address earlier this year," he concluded.