Dreams of home and marriage falling apart for Hongkongers

Hongkongers losing battle to have roof over head and a happy family, social development index shows, as divorces hit historic peak

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 May, 2014, 4:10am
UPDATED : Saturday, 31 May, 2014, 12:00am

A new survey paints a dismal picture of a worsening housing situation in Hong Kong.

The results of the biannual Hong Kong Council of Social Services social development index, released yesterday, also show a population under pressure from family disunity and rising divorce rates.

The figures give a snapshot of the city in 2012 and show that housing was at its least affordable since the survey began in 1999 - scoring minus 106 on the index.

The figures also showed the proportion of income a family spends on accommodation was at its the highest in a decade.

Demand for public housing rose sharply, while government supply failed to meet demand.

The number of divorces continued to rise to 21,125 cases - a historic peak - while "domestic incidents" - family disputes without criminal or violent elements - also rose.

"Having a roof over one's head and having good familial support are considered essential in a society and basic for human beings, but these two are exactly what we don't have," HKCSS chief executive Chua Hoi-wai said. She described housing and family problems as warning bells in the overall index, which rose 2 per cent.

"Hong Kong's development has always been positive, and continues to be. But both the family relations issue and housing cause concern," he said.

While divorce and domestic incidents rose, the heavily negative family solidarity sub-index as a whole was pulled up from minus 311 in the previous survey to minus 221 by a fall in domestic violence - involving actual violence, injury and criminality.

Other measured domains include education, civil society, political participation and environment quality.

The sharp increase in property prices - especially those of smaller-sized flats - had made it increasingly hard for the working class to afford private housing, the council said.

New applications for public housing increased by 76,000 in just two years, from 152,400 in 2011 to 228,400 in 2013 - more than the increase seen in the previous decade. The government received about 59,000 new applications from 2002 to 2011.

But building of public housing stalled at 13,114 flats in 2013, according to Housing Authority statistics compiled by the council.

There are also more single non-elderly people applying for public housing, most chased out of other options due to high rents - especially those in subdivided flats and cubicles "which are getting very expensive", Sze Lai-shan, of the Society for Community Organisation, said.

The average age of new non-elderly one-person applicants went from 37 in 2008, to 30 in 2013, according to Housing Authority statistics.

"The housing issue is the worst ever at the moment, and it is very worrisome," Chua said. "The government's rate of building public housing is so much slower than the need."

He said housing especially plagued the working class and low-income groups. Rents for small flats of 430 sq ft or less saw a steeper rise than those of big flats of 1,076 sq ft or more.

"With the Urban Renewal Authority redeveloping old tenant blocks of cheap housing into expensive flats, as well as redevelopment of other old buildings, the supply of cheap housing also declined," he said.

This affected rental prices and bit into low-income families' budgets, Chua added.

He said the government needed to speed up the building of public housing and consider some forms of rent control.

He suggested that the mandatory one-month removal notice landlords need to give tenants be lengthened to three months, which would allow tenants to find better housing options.