Poor face life on streets as officials shut divided flats

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 May, 2012, 12:00am


Mr Chan always hoped he wouldn't have to live for long in his 40 sq ft room on the fifth floor of a converted factory in Tai Kok Tsui, accessible only by a dark flight of stairs. But he didn't expect the government to force him out after only two months.

The tiny room has just enough space for his bed and a handful of belongings. He shares two bathrooms with 44 other households, but at HK$1,350 it was all he could afford.

He and about 70 other tenants of 69 Bedford Street face homelessness after the Buildings Department issued a removal order, demanding the owner demolish illegal structures on the fifth and sixth floors, including boards dividing rooms, by tomorrow.

It's the latest step in a crackdown on illegal subdivided flats, prompted by fatal fires last year in Mong Kok and Ma Tau Wai.

Chan, who is in his 30s and relies on welfare plus one or two days' work a week, doubts he will be able to find another home in his price range.

'I could only go into a government shelter or non-governmental organisations' dorms if the flat is to be demolished. Anything else would be too expensive,' said Chan, who earns HK$2,000 to HK$3,000 a month.

The building's owner has been ordered to stop using the factory for residential purposes but 'there's no sign anything is being demolished on the floor', Chan said. 'Mr Kan said I could live there until July 1.'

He was referring to his landlord, Wallace Kan, the same man who leased out dozens of flats in another industrial building in Larch Street, Tai Kok Tsui, which was shut after the District Court granted the department a closure order.

'Sometimes I think Mr Kan was doing people good by renting out these rooms. At least we had a shelter,' said Chan, who has been on the waiting list for public housing for two years but has little hope of a place on a public estate any time soon.

The Society for Community Organisation says the government should arrange new housing for the residents before closing the buildings. It fears scores of tenants could find themselves in the same situation as Chan as the Buildings Department prepares to conduct 'large-scale operations' at 30 industrial buildings thought to contain subdivided flats.

Angela Lui Yi-shan, a community organiser with the society, said she hoped the government would explain its priorities for tackling flats in industrial buildings, to help them understand why some buildings were being closed before others.

A spokeswoman for the Buildings Department said residents in need could apply for financial assistance through the Community Care Fund.