Government has the means but not will to eradicate cage hostels

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 December, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 December, 2009, 12:00am

As the season of goodwill approaches it would be timely for the government to consider the plight of the more than 100,000 of our fellow citizens who live in abject, third-world standard accommodation.

Challenging though this problem is for our government, surely it is not insurmountable.

Expressed as a proportion of the elderly living in public rental housing we now have some 22 per cent living in 'bed spaces' , or 'cage dwellings' as they are more infamously known.

Emotive and sustained local research, along with international curiosity and shocking photographic coverage (BBC, CNN, Reuters to name three) of Hong Kong's bed space tenants has done little to coax the government to reduce their numbers.

Indeed, there is evidence to suggest there are today more cage dwellers than there has ever been. Sadly the sector now includes not only the elderly but as many as 10,000 children.

These Hong Kong people produce rental returns for their landlords of about four times the norm and well above the rent paid by public rental housing tenants - bed space tenants typically pay HK$1,000 to HK$1,500 per month while the current average public housing rent is HK$1,320.

Am I alone in believing that the resources, initiative and inherent caring qualities of Hong Kong people cannot eradicate this blight?

As long as this stigma exists Hong Kong can in no way consider itself a world-class city.

There will always be those who drop through the net in large cities but our leaders' complacency in addressing the problem is palpable, while enthusiasm for a prestige Housing Society project for the elderly at Tanner Road, which will produce 500 apartments in four years, is unbounded.

This is not good enough.

A government spokesman's response to CNN's coverage elicited the reply that 'the government has always attached importance to meeting the needs of the grass roots, including housing needs. People choose to live in bed space apartments (that is, cage dwellings) because these apartments, apart from commanding a low rental, are mostly conveniently located in the urban area'.

Secretary for Transport and Housing Eva Cheng is responsible for all housing matters and also serves as chairwoman of the Housing Authority. Ms Cheng is assisted by the permanent secretary for transport and housing, who also assumes the office of director of housing and heads the Housing Department. The department has both policy and operational responsibilities for providing public rental housing and assessing eligibility for public housing assistance.

Ms Cheng is currently watching how the Real Estate Developers Association implements its revised guidelines on 'various enhancement measures' for sales brochures and promotional materials of uncompleted residential properties.

It would be a more significant and exemplary move if she were to address this far more urgent issue that touches the fabric, soul and human dignity of our great city.

Tony Price, Tung Chung