Hong Kong housing

Issue of subdivided flats needs resolution

While it may be unrealistic for the government to outlaw all subdivided flats, phasing them out should be the goal while ensuring that no one becomes homeless as a result. This will be a major challenge for new development minister Michael Wong Wai-lun

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 July, 2017, 12:52am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 July, 2017, 12:52am

The plight of those living in the city’s notoriously appalling subdivided flats has been so extensively reported that there is no need for another study to prompt actions from the government. Nonetheless, the latest findings on residents’ physical and psychological health call for a greater sense of urgency in resolving the problem.

Credit goes to the Society for Community Organisation for renewing concerns over the situation as the city enters high summer. In late June, researchers visited the homes of 29 families across 11 locations and found that the average temperature was 34 degrees Celsius, one to four degrees higher than outdoors. But many avoided using air conditioners because of high energy costs, and instead sought refuge in malls and 24-hour restaurants.

For many of those who have had their air conditioners switched on day and night in summer, the oven-like environment in these shoebox cubicles can only be imagined. Another related study showed that 70 per cent of the 139 households interviewed had reported sleeping disorders in summer. The small living space also meant that children had to do homework in bed and developed spinal problems.

Hong Kong’s poorest endure oven-like home conditions in the summer months, survey finds

Given more than 10,000 people are estimated to be living in such conditions, it may be unrealistic for the government to outlaw all subdivided flats. There are even arguments in favour of legitimisation. After all, it is just a reflection of housing needs. But the mushrooming of such premises does nothing for our image as Asia’s world city. Many units across the city have been converted with little regard to building and safety rules and become death traps in cases of fire. The government should make phasing out such units the goal, while striving to help those displaced so that no one becomes homeless as a result.

The previous government rightly undertook to hold landlords criminally accountable for operating subdivided flats in industrial buildings. But how far are we from putting the legislation in place remains unclear at this stage. This will be a major challenge for newly appointed development minister Michael Wong Wai-lun.