Hong Kong’s housing crisis can’t wait for long-term solutions
The Lantau Tomorrow Vision will take too long to implement for a city where thousands sleep in substandard subdivided
The government’s recent unveiling of the costs for its Lantau Tomorrow Vision proposal has divided the city: one half is concerned at allegedly exorbitant costs, although some estimates say
the project will
most likely turn in an eventual surplus; the other half seems to see it as a panacea to systemic housing issues.
The official pitch is that the project is a long-term solution, designed to deal with Hong Kong’s expanding population and to relieve the city of its land shortages. All’s fair and noble, but we must
a stern look at the stark reality.
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The reality is, the Hong Kong poor can wait no longer. Not everyone has the luxury to afford waiting it out for the promised public housing.
Not the single mothers struggling to raise their children as
they prepare their dinners next to overflowing toilets. Not families dependent upon a single, paltry salary as they wait in the never-ending
queues for public housing. Not the 210,000 people living in
93,000 subdivided homes in 2018.
Nearly three per cent of Hong Kong’s population reside in physically hazardous, socially exclusionary, and mentally debilitating conditions.
The physical dangers extend from dire fire safety
regulations (particularly in flats converted from abandoned industrial units, such as ones in Kwun Tong and To Kwa Wan) to horrifyingly minimal sanitation
standards – up to 21 tenants would share a
single toilet. Summers would bring 40 degree Celsius heat to the ramshackle apartments, while the winters would leave tenants shivering in the cold.
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When I visited a subdivided flat in the summer of 2017, I spoke to a single lady who said the frequent turnover of some cubicles, alongside the pervasive sense of shame and guilt, made it difficult for
tenants to form meaningful connections. They were strangers in proximity – shackled to their fates in the underbelly of Hong Kong, never seen by tourists or the city’s elite.
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To give credit where credit is due, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s government has shown an unprecedented level of willingness (among administrations) to combat the issue of housing shortage. Beyond the
project, the administration has said 70 per cent of the total housing supply target should be public housing, ensuring that more plots are kept for this purpose. A vacancy tax drew the ire of
investors but would ensure greater turnover rates in housing for middle-class and lower-middle-class homeowners. Lam herself has shown some willingness to consult and engage the public on
solutions to the land supply issue.