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September 2022
Issue No. 310

United Court opens with 1800 flats available for the needy


16th June saw the official opening and blessing of United Court, a transitional housing project from the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui Welfare Council. The erstwhile Chief Executive Carrie Lam conducted the opening ceremony, and the Archbishop Andrew Chan gave his blessing that day. The former Chief Executive described the project as a monumental mission, and praised the Welfare Council for planning, constructing, and running a community that houses several thousand residents. The Archbishop prayed that the United Court residents would live with their neighbours in harmony, and be blessed with the hope and grace of God.

United Court was built on land leased from Sun Hung Kai Properties with a symbolic $1 fee. The government provided funds for its construction, and the HKSKH Welfare Council is responsible for its operations. May 2022 marked the construction’s official completion, and new residents have been moving in since then. It is the first large scale transitional housing project built and opened in Hong Kong, with an estimated capacity for 5000 families. To meet the diverse needs of its residents, United Court was built with prefabricated modules, with a total of eight housing blocks, each four storeys high. Various community facilities and services are provided on site, and the exterior design sports a variety of colours. A single United Avenue connects all the blocks, with ample activity spaces to provide a comfortable transition for residents.

Before the opening ceremony, the former Chief Executive toured the United Court with guests of honour, visiting its show flats and community facilities. These included the integrated services building, a convenience store, the first ‘speed cut’ barbershop within a transitional housing project, a community kitchen, and the playground.

The former Chief Executive was particularly interested in the living conditions of the residents of United Court, and visited the Yim family. Mr Yim resides with his mother, wife, and two primary school-aged children. The family has been on the public housing waiting list for three years. Before entering United Court, the Yims have been living in a tong lau at To Kwa Wan, paying a monthly rent of ten thousand dollars. For Mr Yim, who makes a living doing odd jobs, such a rent placed a heavy financial burden on his family. In their current 324 sqft flat at the United Court, the rent is only 4590 dollars, less than half of what they had to pay at their previous tong lau, and their living environment is also more spacious than before.

Mr Yim says that he is very pleased with the environment and facilities of United Court. ‘You could have a nice stroll on United Avenue. It’s a completely different world compared to To Kwa Wan.’ The biggest joy to Mr and Mrs Yim is that their children have become much happier, now with opportunities to join various activities within the Court, and meeting and making friends with other children in the playground. ‘Our living conditions have improved a lot.’

At the opening ceremony, the former Chief Executive and the guests of honour jointly pressed a button with the eight ‘Well-Being Indices’ printed on it – an interlinking of eight circles, representing the holistic care for residents through a wide range of services. The eight indices are: health, emotion, mindfulness, connection, environmental friendliness, finance, vocation, and technology. This framework was specifically designed by the Welfare Council for United Court, and is the first such well-being measure implemented in a transitional housing project in Hong Kong.

Another resident, Mr Lee was invited to share his story at the opening ceremony. Mr Lee originally lived in a 30 sqft tin-sheet house at Kam Tin, Yuen Long. The environment at United Court is a completely different world, and Mr Lee hopes that the government could continue with more projects of a similar nature in Hong Kong. The Archbishop gave his blessing for the United Court, and for a neighbourhood filled with harmony and grace from the Lord.

The former Chief Executive delivered a speech at the opening ceremony, commenting on how significant it is that the Welfare Council, being a non-governmental organisation, is willing to plan, construct, and run a community that can house several thousand residents. The United Court is ‘a difficult and monumental mission,’ she said, ‘Although there have been setbacks along the way, we are here now at the blessing and opening ceremony of the United Court. This is a witness to how being “United” is key to seeing things through. And it is proof that when civilians, businesses, and the government join hands, we can work through any challenges and solve the problems of our society, no matter if it is a pandemic or providing accommodation for the poor.’

Dr Donald Li, chairman of the Welfare Council’s board of directors and executive committee also delivered a speech. ‘Transitional housing is an important policy of Carrie Lam’s term as chief executive. The United Court project only took 19 months from its initial application through construction to the date when the first residents moved in. This is a beautiful example of what could happen when the government, businesses, and civilians all worked together.’ He also thanked Sun Hung Kai Properties for providing the land and technical expertise in this project, as well as the assistance from the Transport and Housing Bureau.

Mr Raymond Kwok, the chairman and managing director of Sun Hung Kai Properties said that he is glad that he could be part of the United Court project, and in this initiative to help poor families in finding short-term accommodation. ‘We believe that the Welfare Council is capable of managing and running this Court well, making it the exemplary model of a transitional housing project. Sun Hung Kai is committed to an ongoing partnership with the government in implementing both private and public housing in a “two-lane fashion”. The government would speed up its process in building new public housing and, simultaneously, simplify the procedures needed for urban planning, such that private property developers can provide more private housing quicker. This two-pronged approach will alleviate the housing needs of Hong Kong with collaboration between the government and private developers.’ Sun Hung Kai previously donated 1800 gift bags to each new resident of the United Court.

Also attending the opening ceremony was Mr Frank Chan, the Secretary for Housing and Transport; Mr Thomas Kwok, director of the Sun Hung Kai Properties Kwok’s Foundation; Mr Adam Kwok, executive director of Sun Hung Kai Properties; Mr Vincent Cheng, chairman of the Legislative Council’s Subcommittee on Issues Relating to the Improvement of Living Conditions of the Grass-roots Tenants; and Mr Joseph Man, acting CEO of the Welfare Council.

To help new arrivals in adjusting to living in the United Court, St Matthias’ Church started the ‘United Caring Initiative’ in mid-May. Volunteers from the congregation went to the United Court every Saturday and Sunday to help new arrivals to move and unpack, and in the process build up a support network to help them get to know the new community.

<The above article was published in "Echo" Issue No. 310. Please click here>


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