Hong Kong housing

Average living space for Hong Kong’s poorest residents same as that of prisoners, survey reveals

NGO representing subdivided flat residents finds 50 sq ft per person is typical

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 October, 2017, 6:06pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 October, 2017, 8:18pm

The average living space for some of Hong Kong’s poorest residents is the same as that of prisoners, a survey has revealed.

The Kwai Chung Subdivided Flat Residents Alliance, representing those who live in partitioned cubicles in the urban area of Kwai Chung, New Territories, found that the average living space per person of 204 families they surveyed between July and September was only 50 sq ft – roughly the size of three toilet cubicles or half the size of a standard parking space.

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Prisoners in shared dormitories have an average space of 49.5 sq ft per person, according to the Correctional Services Department’s planning guidelines, while maximum security prisoners require 75 sq ft of living space.

The living area for grassroots people is the same as for prisoners
Yau Tsz-wei, flat residents group

The survey results also showed none of the 204 families polled met 10 basic living standards that included conditions such as having a formal rental contract as well as a separate kitchen and toilet.

Only 41 per cent of those polled satisfied four basic standards on the list, while 12 per cent fulfilled seven or more.

“It is completely unacceptable and inhumane that the living area for grassroots people is the same as for prisoners in such a prosperous city like Hong Kong,” said alliance member Yau Tsz-wei, who oversaw the survey.

The criteria that most of those polled were unable to meet was having an average living space measuring no less than 75 sq ft – the Housing Authority’s standard size for each public rental housing tenant. Only 12 per cent of those polled met the standard.

The results further found that rent increases for subdivided flat residents outpaced the city’s inflation rate, while utility fees were on average more expensive than government rates.

Almost 200,000 people resided in some 88,000 subdivided units in 2015, according to a Census and Statistics Department report. About 57,100 households – 65.2 per cent of the total – lived in units spanning between 75 and 140 sq ft.

From windowless partitioned flats to cramped cage homes stacked on top of one another, the plight of those living in such accommodations is a far cry from the city’s image as one of the world’s most affluent places.

Many endure the conditions for years before they are allocated a flat in public housing.

At least 150,200 families were waiting in line for public housing at the end of June, facing a wait of four years and eight months, official statistics showed.

Kiki Wong, in her 30s, has lived with her husband and their 6-year-old son in a subdivided flat of less than 70 sq ft for three years.

The room costs HK$3,800 a month in rent and is barely big enough to squeeze in the family of three, a bunk bed, a closet and a small folding table.

“The bathroom is so small we have to sit sideways to go to the toilet,” Wong said.

Another resident, a single mother of two who only gave her last name as Chan, expressed concern about being evicted from her 150 sq ft rooftop shack.

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“Our biggest problem right now is whether we’d be able to find another flat of the same size with the same rent,” she said. “I think it’s almost impossible to do so.”

Chan explained they swapped living in a 70 sq ft subdivided flat for their bigger rooftop apartment, even if it meant being plagued by rats from time to time.

“At night, they just run around everywhere in the flat, even on the bed. Sometimes we don’t even know if we’re sleeping with them. One time I caught nine rats in a night.”

The residents’ group urged the government to come up with a set of basic living standards that could define what constituted “inadequate living conditions” and determine the average living space, air quality, and basic facilities that one should be entitled to.