The human cost of high land premiums

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 August, 2011, 12:00am


Hong Kong prides itself on its wealth and stability. But several surveys released over the weekend paint a depressing picture of what it is like to be poor in one of Asia's richest cities.

Nearly 60 per cent of schoolchildren from low income families have never been to such popular spots as The Peak, Hong Kong Park, the Space Museum and Disneyland, the Hong Kong Research Association found.

Meanwhile, the latest Health Department figures show Sham Shui Po, Wong Tai Sin and Kowloon City, which have some of the city's poorest neighbourhoods, have the city's highest incidence of tuberculosis. Health experts believe crowded conditions in old districts contribute to the spread of the disease. But this is made worse by the prevalence of cage homes and partitioned flats. Such places are not only crowded; insufficient ventilation, poor hygiene and higher temperatures inside help brew germs.

To improve their living conditions, some families have moved into vacant industrial buildings. Such rentals are illegal because the premises are not approved for residential use, so both landlords and tenants are breaking the law. But who can blame families trying to enjoy a little extra space without having to pay astronomical rent? Well, the Social Welfare Department.

After surveying families on welfare living in illegal industrial sites, department officials have issued formal advice 'encouraging' more than a dozen families to leave due to safety concerns. Unsurprisingly, given a choice of where they are now and cage or partitioned flats, all prefer to stay.

High land premiums make the city tick. They enrich its elites, including the government. But the poor pay a heavy price in health and lost childhood by having to live in de facto ghettos.