Estates’ empty spaces should be put to use
- Precious space that could help ease the housing shortage is being wasted
As the city’s biggest landlord, the Housing Authority plays a key role in meeting our housing needs.
But instead of making the best use of its resources to help shorten the queue for subsidised rental units, the authority was found to be sitting idly on more than 100,000 sq ft of space that could have been used for living, storage and other community activities.
The wastage does not square with the government’s pledge to closely examine every inch of space in the city in its quest for more land to provide affordable housing.
The Ombudsman is to be commended for turning the spotlight on the idle space in public housing estates.
Because of design and building restrictions, older estates often have small and narrow spare spaces that cannot be used for living.
While there exists a policy to lease out such spaces for storage, implementation is far from satisfactory. As many as 959 storerooms, or 39 per cent of the roughly 2,400 units in 87 estates, were left vacant.
The watchdog also found a considerable number of empty bays for ventilation and access purposes in individual estates.
At first glance, the revelation appears to have nothing to do with the tens of thousands of people in the queue for housing.
The storerooms and empty bays are not built as living space and may not meet the relevant requirements under the Buildings Ordinance.
But if shipping containers can be an interim solution to the housing crunch, there is no reason we should not make the best of these spaces.
They are already relatively decent compared to many subdivided living cubicles in tenement blocks.
Since 2015, the authority has successfully identified dozens of storerooms for conversion into rental units. Another three empty bays have been converted following the Ombudsman’s intervention.
This shows that conversion into accommodation is not impossible. Those that are really unsuitable for living can still be turned into facilities for use by NGOs.
It is high time the authority actively explores better use of its idle space. It makes no sense for the government to challenge the public to make tough decisions on land supply while wasting precious space that could help ease the housing shortage.