The Housing Department will rebuild the 37-year-old Pak Tin Estate in Sham Shui Po next year, marking a new redevelopment policy for public-rental homes that gives priority to sites that can yield extra flats.
The project will yield 5,650 flats, a net increase of about 2,150, as the plot ratio - the total floor area of building construction permitted - will be raised from about four times the site area to more than six times the area.
The approach is a departure from the past policy of razing public-rental housing blocks only when they become too costly to repair.
A source familiar with the project admitted the estate's eight blocks, built between 1975 and 1979, were still structurally safe. Under the plan, they would be demolished and rebuilt.
'The repair cost is actually low. But the additional number of flats the project can yield is considerable,' she said. 'It will become a guiding principle in the future redevelopment policy, which is to take into account the potential for increasing the number of flats, as well as considering the state of repair.'
Pak Tin will be the first estate to be redeveloped under a study by the Housing Department in 2009, which covers six other old estates.
The one-off repair cost for each existing flat on the estate is HK$6,500. Earlier estimates for older estates put the repair cost per flat at Aberdeen's Wah Fu Estate at HK$20,000, and that for the Fuk Loi Estate in Tsuen Wan at about HK$12,000 per flat.
Redevelopment will take place in three phases to minimise disturbance to residents. It will start next year, with the relocation of the first batch of tenants - about half of those who will be affected - to nearby Shek Kip Mei Estate.
The first batch of 1,420 new flats will be completed by 2019. The second batch of residents will be rehoused on the redeveloped site.
The news was welcomed by most residents, who complain of problems such as too few lifts, water seepage in kitchens and toilets, and plaster peeling off ceilings.
Shum Yin-ming, 60, who has lived there since 1975, said he would like to move to a newer home because the building design was old and the iron gates installed by the Housing Department for the flats were rusty.
'But just a few years ago, the department refurbished the fa?ade and replaced the electrical wiring for all households. They are now even installing lifts for us. It's a waste of money,' said Shum, a retired driver.
Michael Choi Ngai-min of the Housing Authority supported the choice of Pak Tin because of its redevelopment potential.
'It is time to review the policy because the waiting list for public rental flats is getting ever longer,' Choi said. There are currently over 155,000 applicants on the waiting list.
The new policy was the most effective way to overcome the shortage of land for housing, Choi said, compared to reclamation or the development of rocky areas.
But Wong Kwun, head of the Federation of Public Housing Estates, said choosing to redevelop Pak Tin Estate before older estates was a 'clever' move on the part of the Housing Authority because it postponed trickier tasks.
'The authority has avoided redeveloping older and more deteriorated sites such as Wah Fu Estate, because that would trigger a social debate as to whether the waterfront site should be kept for public housing,' Wong said. 'There will be pressure from developers to sell the site for private flats, and there are also no nearby sites to rehouse affected tenants.'
Lee Wing-tat, chairman of the Legislative Council's housing panel, said the government should pay equal attention to development potential and tenants' living conditions.
Kwai Shing West Estate, for example, is about the same age as Pak Tin but there is not much room to increase the plot ratio. The average flat is just 100 to 200 square feet. 'The lack of potential for more flats doesn't mean the government should give up on its redevelopment,' Lee said.