CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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A call to Housing Authority for minority group-sensitive services


HONG KONG (SE): The Hong Kong Pakistani Concern Group on Public Housing visited the Housing Authority on November 6 to highlight to the staff the problems that people from minority groups face in accessing public housing, simply because they cannot read the writing on the wall.

The group spoke with staff at the Housing Authority in the official language of Pakistan, Urdu, using an interpreter in order to highlight how the availability of such a service for people who do not speak either English or Cantonese well would clear up a lot of misunderstandings and give minority groups a better opportunity of accessing their rights.

The concern group said in a press release issued by the Diocesan Pastoral Centre for Workers that it is asking for more ethnically-sensitive housing policies with clear procedural guidelines for public housing application.

It also stressed that there is a need for Urdu to be an optional language in government documentation, as although many Pakistani people speak Cantonese or English which is used in government documents, they cannot read or write either language, which is a distinct disadvantage, as applications need to be made in writing and communication often happens through the mail.

The group pointed out that this leaves people confused over documentation and they can easily miss out on benefits they are entitled to simply because they fail to respond adequately to letters or fill out forms properly.

Although Urdu-speaking people have been in Hong Kong for over 150 years and form a well-established and significant ethnic minority group in the city, the concern group pointed out that a majority of them do not have access to well-paid work, which means that public housing is the only real way for the majority of them to realise their dream of decent housing.

The group also presented drawings done by children from ethnic minority groups in the majority Chinese city to draw the attention of the authority to the dreams of having a decent living that they harbour.

The concern group requested the meeting with the Housing Authority in the wake of a November 4 announcement by the secretary for Transport and Housing, Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, that the government has no plans to re-introduce a rent control policy.

The group believes that in the face of rising rents, ethnic minority groups will suffer a particular disadvantage, as they traditionally work in low paid jobs and often suffer discrimination at the hands of real estate agents in the housing market.

They fear that this decision of the government may further marginalise them from mainstream society.

The group told the Housing Authority it believes that the plight of the people it represents is more serious than that faced by the Chinese majority, as on average, minority groups are poorer and have the further disadvantage of lacking literacy in Chinese or, in many cases, even English.

The group told the authority that, as a consequence, people from ethnic minorities often do not understand the process of applying for public housing, which leaves them out in the cold in terms of accessing government assistance.

“We, the Hong Kong Pakistani Concern Group on Public Housing, are composed of local ethnic minority residents of Hong Kong, who are facing huge socio-economic difficulties in Hong Kong society,” the group said in a press release.

“All of us are renting flats in old urban areas on the Kowloon side and facing huge economic pressure from increasing high rental expense. We have been experiencing many difficulties in the application process from the Housing Authority,” it continues.

The concern group is requesting that administrative procedures and the staffing structure of the Housing Authority and Housing Department make some changes to make it more minority group friendly.

The group cited the case of a woman, who received a letter from the Housing Authority in English requesting documented information, but she could not find anyone to read the letter for her and since she could only read Urdu, she lost a lot of time in accessing a much needed service.

The group is asking that documentation give a clear option to choose Urdu as a preferred language and to provide Urdu and Punjabi translating services at Housing Authority offices, as people often do not understand English or Chinese well enough to pick up important details during interviews.

The group also believes that a translation services would give the Housing Authority a better understanding of the needs of minority groups.

The concern group stressed that this service already exists in education support and health care, and the service has been outsourced to the S. K. H Lady Maclehose Service Centre.

They have also drawn up an inventory of part-time interpreters who can be called upon when the need arises and arrangements for interpreter services can be made in advance.

The group told the Housing Authority that since an infrastructure for providing such a service already exists within government, it should also make such a provision, as housing should also be regarded as an essential service.


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