Hong Kong couple downsize to historic Blue House building – but are now much happier

Juliana Wong and her husband are among the first new tenants to move into a flat in the renovated Blue House cluster in Wan Chai, a district that has seen considerable change in recent years

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 July, 2017, 6:07pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 July, 2017, 10:43am

Juliana Wong was overjoyed when she received a bowl of hot double-boiled soup from her neighbour.

“Our neighbour just gave me a bowl of soup,” she proudly told her husband.

Such kindness was unimaginable for the freelance copywriter during her 18 years in South Horizons, a typical Hong Kong private housing estate, where residents were busy minding their own business.

But things started to change in January, when she and her husband, after selling their flat, moved into a flat in a group of historic tenement buildings in Wan Chai. They are called the Blue House cluster for the main building’s distinctive colour.

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The couple is among nine families who moved in this year after almost four years of refurbishment in a HK$76 million government-funded revitalisation project with non-government charity St James’ Settlement.

Although the couple had to squeeze into the 360 sq ft flat, which was half the size of their previous home, they feel the new place has made them happier.

“In South Horizons, you could only buy things in chain stores,” Wong said. “There is a big park there, but people just rush right through it without staying or communicating.

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“Here we get to know our neighbours, we organise concerts and markets, we watch films projected on a wall, and at least once a month we bring food and eat together.”

The government-owned cluster consists of three interconnected buildings, including the Blue House, built in the early 1920s and a Grade 1 historic building, the Yellow House, a Grade 3 structure built around the same time, and the Orange House, which was built in the mid-1950s.

The renovated buildings, with new lifts and toilets, have 20 flats with 12 for rent. The rest are for eight tenants who lived there before renovation.

The flats – from 360 sq ft to 846 sq ft – rent for HK$11,540 to HK$30,477 a month.

The eight original tenants will continue to rent at their previous rates, which are similar to those in public housing estates.

Competition for the flats has been fierce, with the nine families selected from about 150 applicants. Each applicant needed to submit a written statement about how they planned to contribute to the community. Those who made the shortlist were interviewed.

Suki Chau Hei-suen, team leader of community services with St James’ Settlement, said the selection panel, including members from the local community and the charity, looked for those who had their own visions about community life, especially those who could use their interests to contribute to the neighbourhood, such as artists or gardening enthusiasts.

Wong and her husband, for example, invite their musician friends over to perform from time to time, and leave their ladder outdoors for the community to share.

“The Wan Chai neighbourhood has been going through huge changes in the past decade,” Chau said. “We want to rebuild the community through our conservation project.

“Many historic buildings were revitalised into commercial projects such as hotels, shops and restaurants. We hope our project can offer a new experience in heritage conservation.”

St James’ Settlement will brief potential residents on Sunday on how they can apply for the remaining three flats.