Given Hong Kong’s surging home prices, public housing flats are increasingly sought after by residents whether or not they are genuinely needy.
But how many of us know how the public housing concept works, let alone its history?
Thanks to rapid urban redevelopment, most older public housing buildings have vanished.
Shek Kip Mei Estate, Hong Kong’s first public housing project, is one of them.
Completed in 1954, it housed squatter families who had lost their homes in a nighttime fire a year earlier.
In the 1970s, the buildings were redeveloped into self-contained units with significantly improved living conditions.
The estate underwent another major facelift in 2000, except Mei Ho House (美荷樓) or Block 41 which was preserved for historical reasons.
It is listed as a Grade II historic building and has been used as a youth hostel and heritage museum.
In 2015, YHA Mei Ho House received honorable mention in the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation.
Terry Liu, chairman of the Hong Kong Youth Hostels Association, said UNESCO cited Mei Ho House for its tangible and intangible value.
Its intangible value stems from housing the Shek Kip Mei fire victims and from providing affordable accommodation to travelers from around the world, he said.
“Unlike in many cities where historic units would have been turned into luxury hotels, Mei Ho House serves the common folk with a safe and comfortable environment,” Liu said.
Former residents have maintained a strong bond with Mei Ho House through an alumni network.
It was established around 2009 when a group of 200 to 300 alumni of Shek Kip Mei Government Primary School visited the area for a photo shoot.
They went on to become the first tour guides of the heritage museum.
Many of its exhibits — old electric appliances, calendars and home decor — were recovered from the former Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate.
These continue to strike a chord in many elderly visitors who are nostalgic for the estate as they knew it.
The hostel will host an open house on May 21 and 22, featuring a series of interactive programs where visitors can share their memories of the estate.
Workshops and guided tours will be offered and nostalgic children’s toys given away.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 18.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
[Chinese version 中文版]
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