Vision First keeps records of rental amounts in Tenancy Agreements signed by refugees, as well as the rent assistance received to them by ISS-HK. Our data is collected at time of registration and generally updated during subsequent case work.
On 3 June 2015, the Legislative Council Secretariat submitted to the Panel on Welfare Services that, “The Administration advised that the existing mode of assistance was workable as 98% of claimants were able to find accommodation with the assistance provided.” In other words, the authorities imply that 98% of refugees secure accommodation with the assistance provided, that is seemingly inadequate for just 2%.
Technically the statement is correct, although it appears to be largely misleading. If the rent assistance were $100 per month, the statement would still not be false, because it glosses over the problem of rent balances refugees are forced to pay monthly without the right to work legally.
Vision First calls on the authorities to produce the data. The SWD has copies of the Tenancy Agreements entered between 8600 refugees (including children) and their respective landlords. Those are real rents paid in the open market, irrespective of the legality of dangerous slums and subdivided flats. The actual rent assistance received by each refugee is also known.
As way of example, we compiled a simple datase of the latest 100 Vision First registrations, out of a database of more than 2000 refugees. There are three data columns: “REAL RENT” paid by refugees to landlords; “ISS PAYS” to refugees in rent assistance; “NOTES” on individual housing arrangement. Without claiming to be representative of the wider situation, the table makes for interesting reading:
- Most of the refugees who pay $1500 rent, in line with the government allowance, live in slums, or illegal structures that are increasingly deemed unacceptable by case workers at contract expiry. When all the slums are closed down, where will refugee tenants relocate to?;
- Cohabitation is widespread with the growing risk of defaulting on leases when friends fail to get along, move out, are removed or deported, or voluntarily leave the city. It should be noted that security deposits are only paid once in the lifetime of a refugee in HK. How much money will HKSAR lose in security deposits through this policy?;
- Most refugees are faced with rent balances that must be met personally. The options are: a) assistance from NGO or churches; b) remittances from overseas; c) donation from well-wishers; d) assistance from working girlfriends; e) WORKING ILLEGALLY. Our readers may guess which arrangement is most prevalent;
- The data presented raises the following question: If ‘the existing mode of assistance is workable’, who is it workable for?