If there is a silver lining in the sorry tale of development chief Paul Chan Mo-po, his wife and the subdivided flats in their property portfolio, it's the spotlight it has cast on this inhumane type of dwelling for the city's poor. Or at least that would have been the case if local journalists had been as zealous in exposing the predicament of the tenants now facing eviction as they have been in checking the family's property transactions.
It now turns out that the company controlled by Chan's wife and her family has a long history in dealing with subdivided flats, dating to the mid-1990s when Chan was a company director. According to Chan's latest admission, the couple have at least some if not full knowledge about the subdivided flats in the company's property portfolio. It's still unclear how much the Chans knew and when they knew it. It seems they are determined to obfuscate for as long as they can.
After caged homes, subdivided flats are the most exploitative, unhygienic and unsavoury of flats available to the city's poor. An estimated 100,000 people live in such dismal conditions. According to a study by the Society for Community Organisation welfare group, temperatures in subdivided flats - dubbed 'human-flesh steamers' - are far hotter than outdoors. Poor ventilation is a key contributor. Costly electricity bills put air conditioning beyond the reach of most tenants. The conditions are tough even for adults, yet many children have to grow up in them thanks to the lack of housing available for their families.
During his election campaign, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying promised to focus on livelihood issues affecting the grass roots. Here's a chance for him and his beleaguered administration to prove they mean to keep their promises. Throw Chan to the wolves - he is expendable - and announce concrete policies to phase out caged homes and subdivided flats. The queue for public housing has grown from fewer than 100,000 in 2006 to over 189,500 today. So the solution must lie in increasing the supply of flats.
That should help shore up the popular support that Leung really needs right now.