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Hong Kong housing

Use shipping containers for temporary housing, Hong Kong social welfare group urges

Dutch company’s offerings estimated to cost HK$190,000 per unit and hailed as desirable interim solution for those waiting years for public flats

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 October, 2016, 11:54am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 October, 2016, 10:10pm

A leading non-governmental organisation is mulling a test run to use converted shipping containers as temporary homes for people waiting in a lengthening queue for public flats in Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong Council of Social Service, a federation representing at least 400 NGOs in the city’s social welfare sector, suggested building temporary housing out of ready-made, modernised shipping containers in abandoned car parks or under flyovers.

The containers, each measuring around 200 sq ft, are insulated and equipped with their own bathroom, open kitchen, air-conditioning unit and windows.

The council is considering ordering one in the next few months from Tempohousing – a Dutch company that has built thousands of container homes in Amsterdam and abroad. The concept originated from there, where container units have provided temporary housing for students for more than a decade.

“At a time when land supply is scarce, we need innovative thinking,” the council’s chief executive Chua Hoi-wai said on an RTHK programme yesterday.

“We can’t just rely on the government and wait for it to build public housing.”

At a time when land supply is scarce, we need innovative thinking
Chua Hoi-wai, Hong Kong Council of Social Service

The idea follows government plans to criminalise landlords who rent out illegal cubicle homes in industrial buildings, a move that will see an estimated 10,000 residents face imminent eviction.

Official figures showed families face at least a four-year wait to move into public flats with about 288,300 applications for public housing by the end of June.

However, the proposal to build temporary housing was shot down by the Long Term Housing Strategy Steering Committee last year after a contentious debate over land usage.

Andrew Lam Siu-lo, a committee member, said many of his peers at the time believed that any land identified should be used to build permanent public housing, given the short supply of land in Hong Kong.

He said many were also worried that they would not be able to resettle residents who were unable to secure public housing after their temporary stay.

Chua from the Council of Social Service said a container unit home would cost HK$190,000 to buy and build, and only take up to nine months to complete.

He added the homes would offer a more liveable and affordable option for those on the public housing waiting list, and could be built on private or government land that would not be developed until several years later.

“There are so many people living in such squalid conditions in subdivided flats,” he said. “Can the government or social enterprises think of an interim solution to help these people?”

Professor Chau Kwong-wing, a housing policy expert, expressed reservations about finding suitable land however. “If they are in remote areas, nobody wants to go. If they are in the urban areas, apart from the [influx of residents] overloading the public transport system, the homes could also be eyesores,” Chau said.

“I also have no idea whether such uses are permitted under statutory zoning or land leases.”

The council is studying the feasibility of building about a dozen container homes across the city, with a view to submitting a proposal to the government in a few months’ time.