Housing problems will persist as long as Hong Kong’s haves ignore the have-nots
Paul Yip says from the standpoint of the community as a whole, there is no reason why the Fanling golf club’s land shouldn’t be used for housing, or why 1,000 hectares of farmland owned by the wealthy should sit idle while others suffer in subdivided flats and wait for public housing
The task force on land supply has launched a five-month public consultation to reach a consensus on easing the city’s housing difficulties. Several options have been proposed, including developing brownfield sites, tapping into private agricultural land and developing part of the 170-hectare Fanling golf club.
All could contribute to easing the housing shortage, but none would be sufficient by themselves. The consultation seems to be an impossible mission when the basic element is missing: the haves are not willing to help the have-nots.
Research shows that the happiness index negatively correlates with the Gini coefficient; a higher happiness index is usually found in less income-disparate countries. However, at present, every stakeholder in our community reinforces their own self-interest without concern for others. A previous study has shown that altruism is not uncommon in Hong Kong, as people are willing to donate money and volunteer to help the less fortunate. However, when it comes to doing something about the housing shortage, goodwill seems to be disappearing.
There are three important elements that need to be nurtured in our community: coexistence, co-creation and co-sharing.
Co-existence means being fully aware of the existence of all others in the community. If some part of the community is not well, this affects its well-being as a whole. We can’t ignore the presence of others when we do not live in isolation. I don’t believe we can afford to leave the 170-hectare golf club, which is on government land, untouched when there are more than 200,000 people forced to struggle daily in subdivided flats.
Members of the task force, including chairman Stanley Wong Yuen-fai, have visited subdivided flats in a poor area of Sham Shui Po to understand the difficulties of living in such conditions. There are also nearly 300,000 applicants waiting for public housing. Perhaps some of the golf club’s 2,600 members should visit these households so they can empathise more with their daily struggle. It is not a matter of demonising the golf club’s members; the club is on government land and we need at least part of it as a short-term solution.
Co-creation is about creating something for everyone to use, especially on the brownfield sites in rural areas. What good does it do for 1,000 hectares of farmland owned by major developers to be left idle for years in the New Territories? The developers have been building up their land banks and have made lots of money, having bought farmland at a very low price years ago. The best years for the Kwai Tsing container terminal might now be behind it due to rapid development of the neighbouring ports of Shenzhen and Nansha, among others. Thus, private-government partnerships could work as long as property developers are not too greedy.
Co-sharing means making Hong Kong a liveable place for everyone. Hong Kong has been blessed in many aspects but, somehow, we have failed ourselves by becoming polarised and fragmented, not seizing our opportunities because we waste so much time infighting.
This is not about taking wealth from the rich and giving it to the poor. Rather, it is a chance to create a win-win situation for everyone. Housing prices are still rising. They have become a burden to everyone except developers and owners of more than one property. The situation has been made worse by the large amount of money coming from the mainland, pushing up prices still higher. It would seem that the Hong Kong housing market is not for the 7 million people here, but to serve the 1.4 billion on the mainland. The government needs to be more determined and implement effective measures to monitor and regulate the sector. In a dense city like Hong Kong, an unaffordable housing market can only be detrimental to our well-being.
Let’s hope that, by the end of the consultation period, the government can deliver on its pledges. The housing crisis will only be solved with the support of others, but a workable solution would be good for everyone.
Paul Yip is chair professor in the Department of Social Work and Social Administration at the University of Hong Kong