The man on the receiving end of Hong Kong’s biggest corporate bequeath is planning to build a village in a north-western corner of the city’s New Territories, across the Shenzhen Bay from southern China’s technology megapolis.
There, 100 homes, each measuring about 300 sq ft (28 square metres), will be ready for occupation by 2022 near the Tin Shui Wai subway station on farmland donated by New World Development. Named the Light Village, the housing community will be reserved for low-income families with children, said Ricky Yu, whose social-housing organisation Light Be is heading the project.
New World’s September 25 giveaway involved 3 million sq ft of farmland, a third of which will go to Yu’s nine-year-old organisation. The Light Village, occupying 28,000 sq ft of land for a token HK$1, will be the first project of its kind, a corporate social responsibility showcase and a stab at tackling one of the most pressing social ills that underpins four months of the city’s worst political crisis.
“Fathers, as the sole breadwinners for these low-income families, are often leaving their children in poverty,” Yu said in an interview with South China Morning Post. “Typically, one parent goes out to work while the other – usually the mother – stays at home to look after the children.”
The project will help the lower end of Hong Kong’s so-called sandwich class, whose monthly income exceeds the threshold for public housing, but falls short of qualifying for subsidies under the Home Ownership Scheme (HOS). Qualifying families will be referred by social workers, instead of applying directly. The monthly income threshold for a family of four to apply for public rental housing is HK$29,240.
New World’s donation spurred other landowners into action. Henderson Land said a day after New World’s giveaway that it would yield to any government seizure of farmland that has already been zoned for public housing, handing over up to 1 million sq ft in Fanling near Hong Kong’s border with Shenzhen for public housing.
The Light Village is a breakthrough for Yu, 51, a former general manager at Amway Hong Kong for seven years before he established his advocacy group in 2010, starting with a two-bedroom flat in Kwun Tong. The flat, bought by a philanthropist for HK$4 million, was leased to Light Be as the pilot for Yu’s vision.
His group focused on what he calls social housing, a form of property investment for investors to earn returns measured in both financial terms and corporate social responsibility. The group sources property from owners at rates that are 20 per cent or 40 per cent of prevailing market rates.
“Landlords approached us 90 per cent of the time, offering us their property,” Yu said, declining to name his first benefactor. “They want to rent their apartments to needy families as they gain satisfaction from helping others, as well as earn some rental income.”
The group received its first funding in 2016 from the Chow Tai Fook Charity Foundation of New World, and Yu struck up a working relationship with New World’s executive vice-chairman Adrian Cheng Chi-kong.
The two men developed their idea of social housing over the subsequent year, culminating in an accord in early 2018 for New World – one of Hong Kong’s biggest private landowners – to donate land to support Light Be’s work. The three plots of land, close to the Ping Shan Heritage Trail and Ping Shan Tin Shui Wai Public Library in Tin Shui Wai, had been used for parking vehicles for more than a decade.
“The land is too small for New World to build apartments, but the size is perfect for our village,” said Yu, adding that Light Be will have usage rights until the land’s lease expires in 2047. “I hope the government can waive the land premium payable for the change of land use purpose.”
The organisation manages and operates 120 so-called social housing homes across Hong Kong in 16 districts. Light Be’s tenant development programme has helped “1,000 people across 300 families,” Yu said. “We offer them not only low rent but also a tailor-made plan for each tenant to guide them to improve their lives.”
A single mother and her daughter were left destitute after her husband’s sudden death. With help and advice from Light Be, she returned to the workforce as a part-time domestic helper, earning a wage for the first time in more than a decade, Yu said.
“She gradually earned more, with several part-time jobs, and eventually was employed as a full-time butler by a rich family before leaving our home,” he said.
More than 10,000 people are likely to benefit from Light Be’s project with New World, which will be financed by the CTF Charity, a private family foundation established by Cheng’s grandfather, the late Cheng Yu-tung.
“These households do not want to rely on the government’s social welfare,” Yu said.
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