Monday, 7 September 2015

Where's the Compassion?

It's not good to live in a subdivided flat, but for many it's the only option
We've all been taught to buy real estate when we have the resources, but these days it's getting harder and harder for young people in Hong Kong to buy with property prices still holding high, and wages hardly keeping up with inflation.

But once you have amassed property, you are king of the hill. That was possible a few decades ago, but not now. With the current restrictions, one can't even buy more than one flat without paying a large stamp duty on real estate acquisitions.

So landlords, with their "king of the hill" attitude these days, are gouging as much as they can from tenants. This makes it harder for restaurateurs to produce decent food at affordable prices  -- how many bowls of noodles or hamburgers do you have to sell to make HK$800,000 in rent per month?

Many independent restaurateurs don't want to win Michelin stars because they know that if they earn the coveted star or stars, landlords assume even more customers will come which means higher rents.

The same problem goes for those renting flats -- the amount of money one pays for space to live in is getting smaller and smaller. People are constantly having to downsize or look for places further away from public transportation to save.

Some families live in extremely cramped conditions
The vile greed of landlords is even worse when it comes to those eking out a living. Most of us have decent salaries, though not great, but we can still pinch a bit here and there.

However there are some families who are hovering around the poverty line and their landlords are still raising their rents.

A family of three living in a subdivided flat in Tai Kok Tsui live in a space under 100 square feet.

"The rent was HK$2,000 per month when we first moved here [in 2007], but it is now HK$3,000," says Peace Chu, who works part time as a housemaid when she can, while her husband takes up temporary contract jobs.

"Plus water and electricity, we now pay about HK$4,500 in rent and utilities, which is about half of our household income."

The other half of the money is needed for food and hopefully savings, but it sounds like there isn't much left over each month.

We already know that living in subdivided flats is not a healthy environment for a human to live in -- there is no fresh air, the potential for safety hazards is a constant concern, and it's noisy and unhygienic.

And yet the government has sort of turned a blind eye because it hasn't come up with any decent social housing solutions, and yet many have to live in these cramped conditions to the detriment of their health.

What is hard to understand is that these landlords are already raking in lots of money. Why this need to raise rents at the misery of others?

As my great aunt used to say, "You can't take money with you to the afterlife", so why this desire to squeeze out every cent from a tenant, especially ones that are just barely getting by?

Can we not have some compassion for these people?

Thankfully there is a housing project called Light Be that helps mostly single mothers share a flat and pay rent at a substantially lower cost. Not only does this give the families more space and a clean environment to live in, but more importantly builds their self esteem and hopes.

The flats are "donated" by landlords who have empty flats, or are interested in doing some charitable work. These flats are located all over the city, and it's wonderful to see these families get a leg up with a roof over their heads which they pay at the amount they can afford.

There are already a number of homeless people, mostly elderly, on the streets who cannot afford to rent a place -- even a subdivided flat. If there aren't more people willing to help give them roofs over their heads, we may see families out on the streets too.

Again -- can we not have some compassion for these people?

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