We’re staying put, say To Kwa Wan owners

Residents want authorities to assure them their To Kwa Wan building will be redeveloped before they will make way for safety checks

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 August, 2013, 7:56am

Residents of a tenement block whose balconies are in danger of collapse are refusing to obey a temporary eviction notice unless they are assured their To Kwa Wan building will be redeveloped.

It is uncertain whether the Urban Renewal Authority will step in after the Buildings Department concluded that all the balconies on the 56-year-old block on 51 Kai Ming Street were structurally hazardous and must be knocked down.

A major worry of the residents is that slicing off the balconies would cut down the sizes of their flats by about a quarter, which could slash the resale values of the properties.

They are also angry with the government's arrangement to resettle them in interim housing in Tuen Mun. At a heated meeting between occupants and the department yesterday, sight-impaired resident Lam Po-ching, 80, said Tuen Mun was too far for someone her age.

"I told them that if they forced me to leave, I would jump off the building," Lam said.

Another resident, a 13-year occupant of the tenement, said they hoped to unite and request that the government redevelop the area.

Earlier this month, experts hired by the department concluded the balconies were fragile, pointing to a prolonged lack of maintenance and partitioning works to create subdivided flats.

Officials served a notice on Thursday, warning of impending eviction. The residents have to leave by next Friday so that the department can tear down the balconies and further investigate the structural safety of the block.

Greg Wong Chak-yan, who led a Development Bureau advisory committee that was drawing up a renewal blueprint for Kowloon City, said the 51 Kai Ming Street block was listed as a priority site for redevelopment in their master plan, which is to be submitted to the government in December.

But the residents faced keen competition as there were hundreds of other blocks listed as priority sites, Wong said. They would not have much choice if the URA did not take the initiative to redevelop their place, he said.

"It has been difficult for them to obtain consensus from owners of neighbouring blocks to apply for demand-led redevelopment," he said.

Wong urged the occupants to leave for the sake of their safety.

Yesterday, the government arranged two meetings with the residents to hear their demands. Officials from the departments of buildings, social welfare, housing and home affairs attended the one last night.

One resident, Tina Ng, said the department carried out "superficial" maintenance works on the facade three years ago and charged each landlord tens of thousands of dollars. "It is pointless to keep doing repairs, building by building, and making the owners pay for the work," she said. "They must come up with a redevelopment plan."

Kowloon City district councillor Pun Chi-man criticised the authority for dodging responsibility in improving people's lives in the area. "I don't know what they are waiting for. It's about public safety," he said.