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  • Dec 18, 2014
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CommentInsight & Opinion

Subdivided flats: Hong Kong's housing conundrum

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 September, 2013, 7:51am

Hong Kong's subdivided flats have been roundly criticised for so long that one would have thought the administration should have a comprehensive solution by now. After 11 months of study, an option has been tabled for further discussion. The flats, instead of being phased out, may be allowed to continue under a proposed licensing system. This is among dozens of proposals by an advisory panel on housing needs over the next 10 years.

With an estimated 171,000 people living in such units, a licensing system to "legitimise" the better ones does not come as a surprise. The government is understandably caught in a dilemma. Even if officials have the political will to outlaw them, rehousing such a big group is not easy. If the target of 470,000 new flats in the coming decade is already difficult to achieve, a crackdown on subdivided flats would render many people homeless and pose a greater challenge. The advisers are actually divided on whether licensing is the right way to go. Housing officials are also said to have reservations. The lack of consensus underlines the housing conundrum in Hong Kong.

The licensing system idea is raised in good faith. Previous moves to license unauthorised budget guesthouses and "caged homes" - bed spaces in rundown blocks - proved that the problems can be resolved by proper regulation. But what sets subdivided flats apart is the quantity and enforcement.

Fire and building laws prohibit partitions that jeopardise safety and environmental hygiene. But the proliferation of these flats means existing enforcement manpower can never cope with the workload. The plan to crack down on illegal structures in the New Territories is already facing similar difficulties. Given there are tens of thousands of illegally carved up units across the city, introducing a new layer of bureaucracy to clean up the problem is unrealistic.

Even if licensing is to be made an interim measure, determining which flats are approved will be difficult. Adopting less stringent standards, so that many units can continue to operate, effectively compromises safety and hygiene. But if the new regime is too tough, substantial numbers of units will go under. Not only will this push up the rents of the licensed flats, but thousands of people may become homeless as a result.

It would be a shame if subdivided flats were to stay indefinitely. Decent and affordable housing should remain our long-term goal.


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This article is now closed to comments

It is rightly for the editorial to criticize government for inaction after 11 months on solving subdivided flats. The administration is incapacitated by too many cooks. It is time to make a decision and CY Leung must alone do so and order one of the official execute the order. Let history be the judge.
After settling the subdivided flats, I urge CY Leung to absorb such experience to realize that Hong Kong has become a city with slums. It is the doing of an imbalance development. Even accepting mainlanders, the property developers have turned to solely offering housing for the rich that forcing the poor and the locals to live in subdivided flats. Any future land sales should require to include affordable housing. 3% of floor area in NYC.
All these realty agents are complaining about job loses with the cooling measures introduced by the government, they can be hired as inspectors to enforce the licensing of subdivided flats. Furthermore, they can also be employed to check on people who currently live on Public Housing Estate to see if they are still qualified.


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