Link Reit shopping centre sell-off prompts widespread concern from Hong Kong public
Three quarters of respondents to survey said they were very dissatisfied that the government had nothing to say about the Link’s repeated sell-offs
Nine out of 10 Hongkongers surveyed by a concern group that monitors public markets are unhappy about the Link Reit’s planned HK$23 billion sell-off of local shopping centres.
The largest real estate investment trust in Asia last week announced the sale of 17 malls, including their wet markets, in Kowloon and the New Territories to a consortium led by Hong Kong-based private equity fund Gaw Capital Partners.
The move immediately sparked concern from residents in nearby public housing estates that it would further drive up rents, force out family-owned stores, and leave them with only expensive chain stores to choose from.
More than 89 per cent of the 1,074 people the Alliance on the Development of Public Markets polled online and on the street following the Link’s announcement were unhappy about the trust selling off “livelihood facilities” again.
The Link has already sold 28 of its shopping malls in public housing estates for HK$11.96 billion over the past three years.
Tenants of small shops fear ‘inevitable’ rent rises that will force them out after Link Reit’s HK$23 billion mall sale
Around 80 per cent of respondents were worried about the cost of daily necessities going up and a decline in the number of small independent shops. Three-quarters of respondents said they were very dissatisfied that the government had nothing to say about the Link’s repeated sell-offs.
Around 60 per cent of respondents backed a requisition of the malls by the government and even a full buy-back of the Link.
Alliance spokeswoman Chan Shuk-ki said at least nine malls were in districts with higher than average poverty rates.
“Our worry is that if these markets start to empty, the choices for residents will continue to decline,” she said. “Many already have to go to markets in other areas for their daily needs and this consumes more of their time and money.”
Tuen Mun district councillor Tam Chun-yin cited the example of the H.A.N.D.S shopping centre in Tuen Mun, which serves residents of Yau Oi and On Ting estates, but is now dominated by chain stores, restaurants and name-brand apparel retailers.
“There were three small hardware stores there before, it has since dwindled to one,” he said.
He was referring to the period after 2013, when the Link took over and carried out HK$500 million in renovations to the arcade and market.
“We don’t know what the real rate of rent increases are because they speak to tenants individually, but we believe range was between 20 to 50 per cent,” he said.
“The position of the mall is no longer catering to the public housing residents there. We are worried that it will become even more of a middle-class mall [under the new landlord].”
Goodwin Gaw, chairman of Gaw Capital, has stressed that the malls would continue to serve local communities as “refreshed and renewed centres of local life”.