Date
23 October 2017
As many as 88,000 households, or about 200,000 individuals, are living in sub-divided flats in appalling conditions. Photo: Reuters
As many as 88,000 households, or about 200,000 individuals, are living in sub-divided flats in appalling conditions. Photo: Reuters

Housing shortage: Quick fixes and long-term solutions

Despite the so-called “double spicy measures” introduced by the administration, home prices have been rising for the 11th consecutive month, according to the latest figures, while the average waiting time for public rental housing (PRH) flats has hit a record-breaking 4.7 years.

In the meantime, as many as 88,000 households, or about 200,000 individuals, are living in sub-divided flats in appalling conditions.

In fact, we are no doubt in the midst of the worst home affordability crisis we have ever seen.

Even though the administration has vowed to boost home ownership and increase the supply of PRH flats over the next five years in its “Long Term Housing Strategy” published in 2014, it has so far failed to address the pressing need of improving the situation of those who live in sub-divided flats.

The “right to housing” stipulated in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1976 doesn’t merely refer to the right to “shelter”. Rather, it says citizens of all signatories should be entitled to the right to live with dignity in a decent, safe and hygienic environment.

However, the living conditions in sub-divided flats in Hong Kong violate these standards. These units are not only notorious for their ridiculously small size and poor ventilation, but also, more alarmingly, their high fire risk.

In order to lift tens of thousands of underprivileged households out of their dangerous living conditions as soon as possible, the government should provide transitional housing for these families by tapping into the huge resources of vacant industrial buildings.

For example, the government can consider allowing the modification of these industrial building units into temporary and reasonably sized homes for a period of, say, five to 10 years, so that they can be rented out to low-income families at an affordable rate.

Moreover, there are about 234 empty school buildings scattered across the territory, and they too can be turned into temporary homes for low-income families before they are allocated PRH flats.

Meanwhile, in the face of skyrocketing rents, there have been calls for re-introducing rent control. Yet, those calls have largely been ignored by the government.

On the other hand, I have been pushing for tax credits for renters in order to allow them to save money for a home one day. I believe the incoming administration must answer these calls after it assumes office on July 1.

At the same time, in order to increase land supply in the long run, the next government should give priority to developing brownfield sites to make more land available for new homes.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 4

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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RT/RA

Legislative councilor and head of nursing and health studies in the Open University of Hong Kong

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