Evicted squatters end up in illegal flat

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 January, 2008, 12:00am

It has been more than six weeks since the Lee family was evicted from squatter homes in a narrow alleyway in Tin Hau.

But instead of living in interim government housing, the family of seven has moved to another illegal structure - this time on a rooftop.

'We can't go to that interim housing [Po Tin Estate] in Tuen Mun because I work on Hong Kong Island, while my children attend school here,' Mr Lee, who wished only to give his surname, said.

'Now I am paying over HK$5,000 to rent a rooftop place. I know it's another illegal structure, but I have no choice, I can't afford to pay HK$8,000 for a 400 sq ft flat.'

Mr Lee does not think he is taking another risk because 'only owners will be arrested'.

On November 29, government officers arrived in the lane between Gordon Road and Wing Hing Street to remove the 30-year-old illegal homes as part of the Home Affairs Department's 'Team Clean' campaign, launched in November 2003 after the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome.

Although the residents were offered interim flats, only one of the 20 people evicted have chosen to move to the flats in the New Territories, according to a department spokeswoman. Others rent flats or rooms near their former homes.

His home was not the only thing Mr Lee lost in the eviction. 'The next morning, when I went back home to pick up the stainless steel doors, ladders and air conditioner at my old home, I found these valuable items were confiscated.

'Our government acts like a bandit. I nearly fought with them, but I stopped when I thought of my children.'

In response to that complaint, a spokeswoman for the Buildings Department said the squatters were given notice on November 21, advising them to remove their belongings before the demolition.

'We applied for closure orders on April 18 and June 27 last year. However, re-entry permits were issued to occupants or owners, allowing them to re-enter the structures and retrieve their belongings,' the spokeswoman said.

Mr Lee's neighbour, 77-year-old Lam Ying-pui, was the centre of media attention during the eviction when he left his home, with only a small plastic bag of his belongings and a black and white photograph of his late mother who had died three years earlier.

Sobbing, the elderly man walked away from his home for the last time, crying out 'mother' in the Hokkien dialect.

Mr Lam, who said at the time he expected to end up sleeping on the streets, rents a room in a friend's flat in Tin Hau. He said he now wants to avoid any more publicity.

The squatters have been seeking help from district councillor Jennifer Chow Kit-bing since last March, when they saw that squatters in Electric Road were to be removed.

The Gordon Road squatters have lodged a complaint with the Office of the Ombudsman because they feel they should be entitled to compensation, like the Electric Road squatters. The squatters on Electric Road were deemed to be on government land, while the Gordon Road squatters were on private property.

The residents filed a judicial review at the High Court in April last year, but the court ruled the squatters should be removed as they were occupying a private area.

While the Office of the Ombudsman is looking into the squatters' call for compensation, it has already rejected their complaint that the government had no right to knock down their seven poorly constructed homes - most of which were made with corrugated iron roofs and makeshift wooden walls.

For Ms Chow, the issue is government policy which gives only welfare recipients priority for rehousing or a rent allowance before they are given public rental flats.

'However, most squatters refused to take welfare from the government because they regarded it as losing face,' she said.

'Their residences were illegal, but the government should handle the problem with sympathy, which is to provide these families with flats as soon as possible, instead of sticking to a rigid policy.'

Squatter Mr Lee does not expect officials to show much sympathy for his plight. 'I can only trust myself and work harder to pay the rent.'

A spokeswoman for the Social Welfare Department said it would 'look into squatters' welfare needs'.

'We value every complaint and are willing to help them,' she said.