Document Type

Research Report

Publication Date



In response to the perceived housing needs of single elderly people, the "Housing for Senior Citizens" Scheme has been developed by the Hong Kong Housing Authority since the mid-1980s to provide shared housing for unrelated elderly people. Under this scheme, they live together in an apartment unit with individual bedrooms, but sharing certain facilities. This group is fairly numerous and, in Hong Kong in 1998, there were about 110,000 elderly people living alone for various reasons,among whom 34,000 were tenants in public housing estates. Despite some advantages, shared living for any age group can however lead to potential problems.

Using qualitative methodologies including focus groups and in-depth interviews, the research attempted to gain insights into the views of residents on the design and management of HSC projects, and their aspirations. Nine of the 38 HSC projects operating in 32 Hong Kong public housing estates in mid-1998 were studied. A total of 69 elderly participants (78% female, 22% male) attended the nine focus groups, each comprising 6 to 12 residents. Participants' ages ranged from 62 to 90 years and their length of residence in an HSC from three months to 11 years.

To residents, positive features of the HSC projects included the provision of shelter in an elderly person's later life, the care and attention of wardens and the installation of emergency alarms. Design and facility improvements in the newer housing estates appeared to serve better the needs of the residents, with enhanced privacy and reduction in shared facilities. However, older blocks still suffered from problems of insufficient maintenance and repair, and perceived high charges. Most residents appeared to have tried hard to adjust to group life but would prefer to have their own kitchen and bathroom. Conflicts sometimes arose from personality clashes, different cleaning and living habits, shared facilities and bills for water and repairs. Nevertheless, there were some residents who enjoyed the informal caring relationships and the feeling of security.

Another important feature found with respect to the elderly respondents was their low self-esteem and strong sense of powerlessness derived from their sharing of accommodation. Poor family relationships and previous living arrangements were also evident. The research suggests that integration of a caring role into housing provision is increasingly important. Autonomy in housing choice and in the management of life styles are also crucial given the diversity of personalities, needs and demands of the elderly population. The group living model should not be assumed to be a panacea for all single older persons in housing need.

Consultant Team Member(s)

Principal Investigator:
Professor David R. Phillips
(Director of Asia-Pacific Institute of Ageing Studies (APIAS), Head and Chair Professor of Department of Politics and Sociology, Lingnan University)

Professor Alfred C. M. Chan
(Professor of Department of Politics and Sociology, Lingnan University)

Research Co-ordinator:
Luk Kit Ling
(Asia-Pacific Institute of Ageing Studies (APIAS), Lingnan University)

Recommended Citation

Phillips, D. R., Chan, C. M. A., & Luk, K. L. (2000). Strangers sharing space and lives: A qualitative study of the attitudes of single elderly persons living in shared accommodation in Hong Kong public housing estates. Retrieved from