Just Saying
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Property porn in Hong Kong: when home prices are so high, they become obscene

Yonden Lhatoo laments the sad state of Hong Kong’s housing market, where tiny, subsidised homes meant for the poorest families are being sold for record prices and human decency has been abandoned in the pursuit of profit

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 July, 2018, 2:41pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 July, 2018, 10:37pm

I have written and ranted ad nauseam about the sorry state of housing in Hong Kong and the insanity of endlessly skyrocketing property prices in the world’s most expensive city to secure a roof over your head.

The hopelessness of it is enough to leave anyone jaded, but a recent exchange with a bright, young local reporter who works at this newspaper has arrested my slide into benumbed acceptance.

She told me she was living in a shoebox-style subdivided flat because she simply couldn’t afford anything bigger or better. Her predicament reflects the sad reality of life in this city: the humblest form of accommodation – created by landlords illegally dividing individual flats into multiple cubicles to rent out – is the only option, not just for poverty-stricken families but also for young professionals who have no hope of getting on the property ladder.

Hong Kong has reached a point where property developers and landlords shamelessly pursuing profit under the banner of unfettered commerce in a so-called free market have abandoned the realms of human decency, and naked greed rules the roost.

Home prices are not just outrageous these days, they’ve become obscene. This is property porn.

Take the latest obscenity to slap us in the face: HK$3.2 million as the asking price for a 30-year-old public housing flat measuring 150 square feet in remote Tsing Yi – a ridiculous HK$21,333 per sq ft.

Perhaps such reports should be accompanied by a category III warning over indecency from now on: “This article contains material which may offend and may not be distributed, circulated, sold, hired, given, lent, shown, played or projected to a person under the age of 18 years.”

I would add another clause: “Also, this kind of material can have the sort of cumulative effect on youth frustrations that may drive them over the edge, as evidenced during the Mong Kok riot.”

Seriously, it’s beyond reprehensible that prices in the private market have become so ludicrously high that buyers are turning to what once used to be the cheapest flats in the subsidised sector, now converted for resale on the open market. Putting profit before people is the name of the game.

A 147 sq ft former public housing flat in the 27-year-old Fung Tak Estate in Wong Tai Sin, described as “a community of grass roots”, was sold for HK$2.78 million last month. No wonder you can’t find HK$4 million flats in the private market any more.

The laws of physics don’t matter – what goes up is never coming down in this town.

A telling sign of the times is the price surge even in the “haunted homes” market – flats traditionally shunned by superstitious Hongkongers because people have died in them. The fear of ghosts has been numbed by the hunger for shelter.

Let’s see what miracle Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor can pull off as she vows to provide more affordable housing while insisting simultaneously that it’s not for her to curb runaway prices. I can’t see how the two concepts can be mutually exclusive, but maybe she knows better.

There was a bit of a conniption at the Legislative Council this week when veteran opposition lawmaker James To strenuously objected to being prevented from walking into the chamber because his entrance might clash with that of the chief executive who was due to arrive at the same time.

The honourable member complained that Lam was not Moses for whom the huddled masses of lesser mortals should part like the Red Sea.

I, for one, am willing to accept Lam’s status being elevated to that of the hero of the Exodus if it means she will lead us out of the wilderness that shelterless Hongkongers have been wandering around in for decades, dreaming of the Promised Land where every individual or family will have a space of their own to live in, in comfort and dignity.

Yonden Lhatoo is the chief news editor at the Post