19 March 2019
Lee Shau-kee (inset) proposes to redevelop Tai Hang  Sai Estate to provide affordable homes to young Hongkongers. Photo: HKEJ
Lee Shau-kee (inset) proposes to redevelop Tai Hang Sai Estate to provide affordable homes to young Hongkongers. Photo: HKEJ

Is Uncle Four robbing Peter to pay Paul?

A cheque for HK$200,000?

A free home in a Country Garden estate in China?

Or some other creative option?

These are relocation compensation packages the residents of Tai Hang Sai Estate in Shek Kip Mei might get from Henderson Land Development as part of chairman Lee Shau-kee’s proposed redevelopment of the 50-year-old neighborhood to provide cheap housing for young workers.

None of these options is perfect.

Making them reality would almost be mission impossible in the present social climate, because it would simply be a case of robbing old Peter to pay young Paul.

But at least it is a creative attempt from the 87-year-old property tycoon to address the housing shortage.

A day after Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s policy address, Lee called a media briefing to unveil three new ideas to improve housing supply in Hong Kong.

The most controversial is his donation of Tai Hang Sai Estate, where he was granted the right to build the first affordable public housing five decades ago.

It is a dream public housing project.

Lee proposes to tear down eight buildings steps away from an MTR station in Kowloon and redevelop the site to provide 5,000 subsidized flats for sale.

The cool thing is these 300 square foot units will be priced at about HK$1 million and sold to young people from the middle- and low-income groups.

But to realize the dream, he needs to solve one practical problem: how to convince the more than 1,300 households paying just HK$500 per month in rent to move out.

Even if they are guaranteed a future home there, they will need to find a place to stay before they can move in, and that’s a big problem.

A cheque of $200,000 from Uncle Four, as Lee is affectionately known, can perhaps cover three years of rent in a subdivided flat in Sham Shui Po.

If Tai Hang Sai’s residents want living conditions similar to those they now enjoy, they would probably need to dip into their own pockets, and chances are they will be victims of rising rents.

Transferring to temporary public housing is not an option, as the government doesn’t want to be attacked for offering preferential treatment to residents of Tai Hang Sai Estate.

Those residents cannot apply for public housing, because they already enjoy cheaper rents.

So, what about relocating to China?

That may appeal to some people, especially senior citizens, many of whom have already moved to nearby cities in Guangdong province for the lower cost of living.

Having an extra home in a rural area of Guangzhou, such as at Country Garden, would be a sweetener, but I am afraid most senior citizens might not wish to take the risk of living too far from medical care.

Unless residents in Tai Hang Sai Estate are strongly motivated to sacrifice their homes for a better Hong Kong, I cannot see how the dream of Uncle Four could be realized.

The clock for Lee — a kind-hearted philanthropist, a Warren-Buffett type of investor in China stocks and a lifelong expert in converting old buildings to new ones by negotiating with existing tenants — is ticking.

–Contact us at [email protected]


EJ Insight writer

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