Incentives can boost support of elderly homes in Hong Kong

April 26, 2022

The rapid spread of Covid-19 through residential care homes during Hong Kong’s fifth wave highlighted the less than optimal conditions in which many elderly people were living.

Even before the pandemic, there were challenges in the provision of accommodation for elderly people, with the city facing both a shortage of residential places, and a lack of premises that catered to residents’ needs.

We need to rethink about the development of elderly homes. The situation will also drive more people to look for higher-quality accommodation for the elderly, including purpose-built flats that would enable families to remain more involved in the care of their aging relatives.

Rising demand

The number of people in Hong Kong aged 65 or over is projected to soar from more than 1.5 million in 2022 to 2.3 million by 2032 - a 46.3 percent increase, according to the Census and Statistics Department. From 2039 onwards, the elderly population is then expected to remain at more than 2.5 million people for at least 30 years.

This rapid increase in the elderly population comes at a time when the city is already facing a shortfall in Residential Care Homes for the Elderly (RCHE), particularly in the districts of Kwun Tong, Sai Kung and Wong Tai Sin, where there is a higher concentration of elderly people, but a relatively low supply of places in care homes.

The shortage is particularly acute for subsidised RCHE places. Under the Hong Kong Planning Standards and Guidelines, the ratio of subsidised beds per 1,000 people aged over 65 is only 21.3across Hong Kong on a five-cluster basis, districts falling below this level include Eastern, Island, Sai Kung and Shatin.

The public sector provides only 29 percent of existing RCHE places, with the remaining 71 percent provided by private sector players, suggesting it will be the private sector that meets the shortfall.

Inadequate living conditions

There are also issues with the standard of living some elderly care homes offer. Many privately-owned RCHE are located in the retail podiums of aging composite buildings, which have not been purpose-built for elderly residents.

The minimum floor area requirement for elderly persons is far below the reasonable size. Regulations governing RCHEs stipulate that they must have a minimum floor area of 6.5 sq m for each resident, a requirement that does not adequately meet the space needs of senior residents, particularly those who are in wheelchairs or require crutches. With reference to the new land sale clause of minimum size threshold of residential unit of 26 sq m and the average household size of 2.7 persons in 2021, the minimum space per person should have been at least 9.6 sq m.

At the same time, the homes lack the design features that would enhance the standard of living for elderly residents, ranging from measures to increase their ease of mobility, such as wide doors, to wellness facilities to help them remain active and in good health.

A purpose-built solution

There is clearly a need for a greater variety and higher standard of accommodation across Hong Kong to meet the needs of the city’s fast-growing elderly population.

Purpose built elder accommodation would not only provide comprehensive facilities and adequate space for residents, but important safety and hygiene standards to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases could also be incorporated into the design.

Previous schemes, such as the exemption from land premium payments for certain transactions for purpose-built RCHE in new private developments, rolled out by the Lands Department in 2003, have failed to act as a significant incentive to developers, so far there is only one development completed under the scheme since its inception.

As a result, the Government should consider introducing new incentives to encourage developers to build more elderly-friendly flats within private residential developments. Such accommodation would not only provide more spacious housing, but would also enable residents to continue to live close to family, making it easier for them to be involved in their care.

Incentives could also help to address the gap in the market for upscale elderly accommodation. There are currently only a small number of elderly friendly housing in the market provided by private developers and the Hong Kong Housing Society.

Notable features of these developments include larger flats with one to three bedrooms, offering greater privacy for elderly people and enabling them to live with or close to family members. They also include elderly-friendly designs, such as wheelchair accessible corridors, doors and sizeable lifts, sliding bathroom doors and adapted washbasins and showers, and emergency call bells. Healthcare and wellness facilities targeted at the elderly are also on site.

As Hong Kong’s elderly population increases, the supply shortage of accommodation for the elderly needs to be addressed, with a greater emphasis placed on providing homes of an adequate size, with elderly-friendly designs, that enable people to live with or near their family.

Private developers are well-placed to meet this need, and should explore opportunities in districts with the most acute elderly accommodation shortages, such as Eastern, Island, Kwun Tong, Sai Kung, Shatin and Wong Tai Sin.

This article was originally published on South China Morning Post on 26th April, 2022.