Hong Kong housing

Grass-roots families fight plans for Hong Kong’s only low-cost private rental estate

Residents’ group says developers will profit at the Shek Kip Mei site and calls for public housing to be built instead

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 April, 2017, 7:14pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 April, 2017, 5:58pm

A redevelopment plan for Hong Kong’s only privately owned low-cost rental estate has met opposition from a group of grass-roots families who want public housing to be built there instead.

The Town Planning Board approved plans for the Hong Kong Settlers Housing Corporation to redevelop the Shek Kip Mei site on condition that it reached a deal to rehouse 1,300 affected households in the 52-year-old Tai Hang Sai Estate.

The corporation, of which property giant Henderson Land’s chairman Lee Shau-kee is a director, proposed reserving 823 flats for rent while offering 729 subsidised flats for sale in its first phase of development by 2024.

Shek Kip Mei estate residents protest against redevelopment plans

Details of a second phase, offering 3,636 flats by 2030, would be ­announced once a deal had been agreed with residents.

However, a group of low-income Sham Shui Po residents attacked the proposal for going back on land sale conditions when the government sold the land in 1961 at a knock-down price.

“The land lease stated that at least 1,600 rental flats should be provided for low-income families. Now the government’s just helping private developers make money,” Tsang Kin-wah, a group representative, said.

Tsang said all the flats should be for low-cost rental or the government should take back the land to build public housing.

“The government said that it would take three years to get into public housing, but now who knows how long it would actually take?” Tsang told lawmakers in a meeting on Monday.

Does Hong Kong’s land sale system need a new lease of life?

There were at least 282,300 applications for public housing and thousands faced an average waiting time of four years and eight months, according to official figures as of December.

Housing policy expert Lawrence Poon Wing-cheung said it was impractical for the government to resume private land under these circumstances.

“Of course it is ideal [given the housing crisis], if the government can take back the land for public housing. But Hong Kong is a city that values and protects private property rights, otherwise the government can just take back all industrial buildings to build public housing,” Poon said.

Officials have previously said that redevelopment plans at the site could be determined only by the owner, as long as it complied with building legislation and lease conditions.

The company has to apply to the Lands Department to change land lease conditions to allow the sale of subsidised flats in order for building work to start. Current land lease conditions only stipulate that the company has to offer at least 1,600 flats to lease to low-income families.

If approved by the government, it would have to pay a land premium according to the increased land value.

In response to Post inquiries, the corporation said it had yet to submit an application.

Poon said it was also unlikely that the landlord would convert all the flats into low-cost rental housing, given the hefty price to cover construction costs and the land premium.

There are no details available on the rent or discount on the subsidised flat sales.

The corporation spokesman said it would likely take references from public housing and the government’s subsidised flat sales to decide rents and flat prices.