To Kwa Wan building residents give way as evict order is issued

People living in To Kwa Wan tenement to move out for three weeks to allow for balcony works

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 August, 2013, 3:01pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 31 August, 2013, 5:08am

A court granted approval yesterday to the Buildings Department to close off a 56-year-old To Kwa Wan tenement block deemed structurally hazardous.

The closure order means scores of displaced residents of 51 Kai Ming Street are to be put up at alternative accommodation for the next three weeks while the department carries out tests and emergency work on the building's balconies.

We acknowledge the situation is not ideal, but we have been trying our best to find accommodation in urban areas as requested by the residents
Paul Lau Tak-hon

The residents had earlier been told to vacate the six-storey block for six months while the enclosed balconies were torn down.

The residents had vowed to defy the order, but agreed to comply after it was issued.

They have been given time this weekend to retrieve their valuables and to move furniture away from the balcony area. Businesses on the ground floor would be allowed to continue operating, the department said.

Officer-in-charge Paul Lau Tak-hon said they were urgently looking for accommodation and had reached out to groups such as the Caritas Family Crisis Support Centre for help.

"We acknowledge the situation is not ideal, but we have been trying our best to find accommodation in urban areas as requested by the residents," he said. "The only challenge now is whether they will accept what we can currently find for them."

Lau said some families might have to live apart.

Last night officials said they had secured accommodation in Sham Shui Po, Lok Fu and other places for the residents. Partially sighted resident Lam Po-ching, 80, will stay at a home for the elderly.

Following the court decision, employees from the social welfare and buildings departments arrived yesterday with police to enforce the order and to help occupants apply for permits to return over the weekend.

The balconies, which comprise up to half of the gross areas of some of the flats, will be closed off indefinitely starting next week. The Buildings Department plans to install floor-to-ceiling steel frames to prop up the cantilevered balconies and extract concrete samples for testing.

"Tests on the concrete will take two months, and only then will residents know the fate of their building," said lawmaker Helena Wong Pik-wan, who has been helping the community.

"If the building is found to be unsafe for living, it will be torn down. That's why they are requesting that the government redevelop the area now."

The court approval comes eight days after the Buildings Department first told residents they had to leave the premises within the week. Initial plans to resettle them in a Tuen Mun transit centre were scrapped after residents complained it was too far away.

Residents are also unhappy the Urban Renewal Authority has not decided to redevelop their old tenement and that they have instead been forced to pay for a string of repairs since 2010.

In December, 51 Kai Ming Street was listed as a priority site for redevelopment in a plan submitted to the government.

"They're basically throwing us out like rubbish. I really don't know what the government wants," said Chan Wing-kit, 60, who has lived in the tenement for more than a decade. "Our demands were so simple - we requested only more time."