Subdivided flats the biggest stain on Hong Kong's image

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 August, 2013, 3:58am

Nothing tarnishes Hong Kong's image like subdivided flats. Despite our affluence, thousands of households can only afford to live in tiny cubicles partitioned inside old factories and apartments. The proliferation of such flats, many of which are illegal and unsafe, is shameful for a place that prides itself as Asia's world city. They are as much an affront to human dignity as they are safety hazards.

The problem was brought to public attention again in a green group's study. The World Green Organisation took temperature readings in five subdivided flats in various districts over three weeks. It was found the indoor temperature could be five degrees Celsius higher than outside during the day. This is hardly surprisingly when kitchen, toilet and bed spaces are crammed together in a crowded flat with poor ventilation.

Staying indoors is hardly an escape from the baking-hot summer for subdivided tenants. Even for those who have the luxury of an air-conditioner, the electricity bill can be unaffordable. The government subsidy for electricity use cannot help much, as the money often goes to the landlord rather than tenants. The use of electric fans and air-conditioning in a small unit can also overload the power supply and jeopardise safety.

Speaking in a town hall meeting last Sunday, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said the plight of those living in subdivided flats in industrial buildings sometimes kept him awake. It is good to hear that Leung keeps the issue close to his heart. However, a year has passed and patience is wearing thin. It is time the chief executive rolled out a concrete strategy to deal with the problem. It is understood that a government-appointed housing advisory panel is of the view that the 10-year flat production target should be raised from 447,000 to 470,000. This follows a suggestion that a consultant had underestimated the housing needs arising from redevelopment projects, including those living in subdivided flats. Hopefully, the issue will be given priority and will not take a decade to resolve.