My Take

It’s time to end the inhuman practice of subdividing homes

The government has decided to act against illegal tenancies, but it has no idea how many people are living in such places, and no plan to rehouse them

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 October, 2016, 2:18am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 October, 2016, 2:18am

When it comes to low-income people living in those horrid subdivided flats in industrial buildings, this government seems bent on throwing them onto the streets.

Officials have been under pressure to crack down on illegal tenancy in industrial buildings ever since a fire at a storage facility in Ngau Tau Kok in June killed two firefighters. They are not only planning eviction, but also threatening to terminate leases and imposing tough fines against landlords. Well, you can’t fault the government for trying to enforce the law.

Hong Kong government criticised for being unwilling to resettle those living in industrial buildings

But shouldn’t they have done it years ago, when newspapers and social work agencies started reporting such substandard and unsafe leasing and subletting?

Instead, officials at the housing and buildings departments turned a blind eye and kept passing the buck. Now they are sitting on a time bomb. While officials are threatening a crackdown, it appears they have no idea how many people are illegally living in industrial buildings. There is no plan to rehouse them once they have been kicked out. Meanwhile, officials seem happy to leave those living in subdivided units in derelict residential buildings to rot.

There are about 1,900 industrial buildings. An estimate by the Society for Community Organisation puts the number of illegal occupants at 10,000. Whether or not it’s accurate, we are looking at thousands of people. Over the past decade, the government has got rid of temporary housing settlements. Only a few interim housing sites for emergencies remain. Are those interim places enough to help those facing eviction until they find private accommodation or public housing? There appears to be no tally because, according to some critics, the departments won’t take responsibility and the policy bureaus have shown little leadership.

Coffin cubicles, caged homes and subdivisions … life inside Hong Kong’s grim low income housing

A public housing flat now has a waiting time of four to seven years, so that offers no immediate solution at all. The government will have to reintroduce temporary housing and/or financial subsidies for private rentals.

While the administration of Leung Chun-ying has taken significant steps to increase the supply of public housing units, it has been slow in converting empty industrial buildings into residential sites. Is it at all surprising that landlords have taken matters into their own hands?

A chief executive who would commit to eliminating the horrid practice of subdivided flat leasing has my support.