Subdivided flats are not the long-term answer
A proposal to use government-approved subdivided rental flats as interim accommodation for housing applicants should not be undertaken without achievable targets for reducing public housing waiting times
In the best of all possible worlds there would be no waiting list for decent affordable housing. In the next best the government could wipe it out overnight by tapping an abundant supply of land for building public housing. In the real world, neither scenario is realistic. As a result many thousands of poor applicants on the waiting list are forced to live in subdivided flats, in conditions that put the city to shame. Inevitably, concern about their plight prompts short-term suggestions that would not normally be entertained.
A case in point is one from Hong Kong’s new housing minister, Frank Chan Fan, to enlist non-government organisations to operate government-approved subdivided rental flats as interim accommodation for housing applicants. He is looking to roll out a pilot scheme with public participation through a crowdfunding drive within a year. The government would thus become involved in the dubious practice of dividing flats into smaller units and renting them to poor families, which raises concerns about fire hazards and otherwise unsafe and inhumane living conditions.
As Chan says, the average waiting time for public rental housing offers of 4.6 years creates a genuine need for interim housing. But many will be sceptical about his denial that the project would legitimise or encourage the subdivision of flats. That is precisely the main concern with it – that it would institutionalise a blot on a society that should be trying to close the big income gap responsible for it. The word interim must mean what it says, lest subdivided housing comes to be seen as part of the solution, and not part of the problem.
The Society for Community Organisations has welcomed the proposal. As we reported recently the society visited the subdivided homes of 29 families across 11 locations in late June and found the average temperatures of these shoeboxes was 34 degrees Celsius. Many residents who cannot afford to run air conditioning seek refuge in shopping malls and 24-hour restaurants. No NGO group knows better the urgency of a permanent solution to the problem of subdivided flats. The interim measure should not be undertaken without achievable targets for reducing public housing waiting times that would ultimately render it unnecessary.