Hong Kong must remove barriers to affordable, adequate housing
- Inequality of access to decent housing is both a global and local issue, as the pandemic and climate change worsen social disparities
- In Hong Kong, we need to recognise that housing is not so much a commodity as a fundamental right, to address the problems facing marginalised groups
“Leave No One Behind” is the North Star guiding the United Nations’ drive for progress across a series of sustainable development goals aimed at achieving peace and prosperity for all people. Seven years have passed since 2015, when 193 countries committed to eradicating extreme poverty and inequality.
World Habitat Day is an opportune occasion to be reminded that housing woes hurt some vulnerable communities more than others. One should be particularly mindful of the barriers, both physical and otherwise, that some segments of the population face in this regard.
People with disabilities often have difficulties navigating their built environment and may require adaptations and assistance to get around. It is with this in mind that the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) has been active in advocating for universal design principles to facilitate independent access for all people, particularly those with disabilities.
Universal design can be described as designing for use by everyone, to the greatest extent possible, rather than designing for the average user. Using universal design principles reduces the need for assistive technology and makes products more usable by all people, not just those with disabilities but also senior citizens, carers of young children and pregnant women.
The anti-discrimination ordinances clearly prohibit this kind of behaviour. But law is only part of the solution. For lasting change, we need to uproot deep-seated stereotypes and biases that lead to discriminatory attitudes.
At the EOC, we have embarked on a publicity campaign targeting landlords, tenants and property agents since last year with the aim of ending the problem through shared responsibility.
At Habitat for Humanity Hong Kong, we advocate for policies that safeguard equal access to adequate and affordable housing for members of traditionally marginalised groups and organise awareness-raising events to explore how to effect change in the housing system.
At a recent Habitat Housing Series event, one speaker reiterated a key message: we need to go beyond viewing housing as a commodity and make explicit a commitment to housing as a fundamental right. As the government works to bring more public housing speedily into being, we urge a long-term vision with rights-based approaches that strengthen equal access to affordable and adequate housing for low-income households and members of traditionally marginalised groups.
According to a 2022 UN report, discrimination in housing is one of the most pervasive and persistent barriers to the fulfilment of the right to adequate housing globally. With a more equitable and fair housing system, Hong Kong can showcase its global leadership in striving to leave no one behind, and create an environment where all residents are empowered to contribute to the city’s role as a global hub over the long term.
Ricky Chu Man-kin is chairperson of the Equal Opportunities Commission
Jo Hayes is CEO of the Habitat for Humanity Hong Kong