People living in factories seek public housing
Jennifer Cheng and Joyce Ng
People facing eviction by the government from industrial buildings where they are living illegally, demanded yesterday that they be given public housing instead of being sent to a temporary shelter where they will have to share room with strangers.
About seven industrial buildings in Tai Kok Tsui have been identified as having subdivided flats, and the Buildings Department has ordered them evacuated because they are unhygienic firetraps. But the tenants say the eviction will make them homeless without giving them appropriate housing.
Li Hung-ha, 36, was among about 20 tenants who met officials from the Housing Authority yesterday to express their grievances. An unemployed mother with a one-year-old baby, Li lives in one of the blocks with 38 other tenants on her floor, which is divided into three floors by wooden boards. She pays HK$1,500 per month for a 40-square-metre unit.
'The rent and deposit for a private flat [of about the same size] can cost as much as HK$2,500,' Li said. 'There's no lift and you have to walk seven or eight floors. It is simply too expensive for my baby and me.'
The operation to clear converted homes in industrial blocks was launched recently. Officials say the haphazard partitions can easily cause short circuits and fires, and conditions are unhygienic.
All the tenants in Li's block received a letter from the Buildings Department in September, giving them one month's notice to move out. More than a month has passed, and the tenants live in fear every day that their homes will be confiscated.
The department has assured them that they would 'not be rendered homeless' by the eviction and that arrangements would be made with the Housing Department and Social Welfare Department to offer housing assistance.
But according to Sze Lai-shan of the Society for Community Organisation, who arranged yesterday's meeting with the authority, the tenants are most likely to be relocated to a temporary shelter in the New Territories, where they will be assigned a bed in a communal room.
They will join a long queue of applicants awaiting public rental housing, with a wait of at least three years. They will not be able to jump the queue unless they are in bad health or their homes are destroyed by accidents such as fire.
Sze said: 'You have to see these tenants as already homeless. They live in these illegal flats because they have no choice when rent is so expensive ... If you evict them, then it is unfair to not provide them with appropriate housing.'
The Community Care Fund will give affected households a subsidy of up to HK$6,100 to help them move out, but the tenants say that will not help them find a new home.
Augustine Wong Ho-ming, the chairman of the Housing Authority's subsidised housing committee, said: 'I understand that the tenants feel helpless, and it is our priority to provide sufficient public housing to those in need. But we also want to be careful before allowing individual applicants to jump the queue for public housing because it may anger a lot of other applicants. We will take these views back with us to come up with suitable solutions.'