Sunday, 13 August 2017

HK Needs More Public Housing

A fire in this building in Kwai Chung killed three people in subdivided flats
A fire in a subdivided flat in a warehouse building in Kwai Chung killed three people on Saturday, raising more questions again about the safety of people living in these unhealthy spaces, though they cannot afford anything else.

The owner of the space had subdivided 6,000 square feet of space into 17 rooms and did not submit the application to make minor alternations to the Buildings Department, nor did the changes meet fire safety standards.

The 1953 Shek Kip Mei fire led to building public housing
In addition, the 45-year-old Ma Sik Industrial Building didn't have any sprinklers because it was built before 1973 and was thus exempted from retrofitting.

Security minister John Lee Ka-chiu said on Sunday that police, buildings and fire services department officials were investigating whether the fire was a result of breaches in safety or fire regulations.

That's all fine and well for the government to look into the technical breaches in terms of fire safety, but can we look at why we are having subdivided flats in the first place?

There is not enough affordable or low-income housing in Hong Kong and the government has a duty to do something about this. We cannot have people living in horrible conditions and pay much more in rent per square foot than the average middle class flat owner.

In 1973 the government pledged to house 1.8 million people
Subdivided flats are notorious for being unhygienic, cramped, noisy and fire hazards waiting to happen. Low-income earners have no choice but to live in these places to have a roof over their heads. This is unacceptable -- it is 2017.

And the government can play an important role in this.

It built public housing in 1954 after a fire in Shek Kip Mei destroyed makeshift homes of mainland Chinese immigrants the year before. The concrete buildings weren't perfect, with communal washrooms and kitchens, but at least they were solid structures for people to live in.

In 1973 the government announced a 10-year plan to provide 1.8 million people in Hong Kong with "satisfactory accommodation". The authorities felt it was their responsibility to provide accessible housing to the poor.

How much longer can people live in subdivided flats?
Today the government hasn't done a comprehensive assessment of subdivided flats in Hong Kong -- how many are there, who lives in them, how much money do they make or receive each month, and more importantly what can be done about the situation?

These inhabitants are not dirt poor, but they cannot afford even the cheapest microflat. Shouldn't that be a sign that the city needs more public housing? Hong Kong is so wealthy and yet it has no compassion for people who need a decent roof over their heads.

Can our relatively new Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor please look into this and solve this issue? It would definitely bring more harmony to the city...

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