Hong Kong housing

Answer to Hong Kong housing crisis lies in prefabricated container homes, says lead consultant on Sham Shui Po project

Rider Levett Bucknall chief Stephen Lai believes HK$35.7 million social housing project could pave way for similar developments

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 June, 2018, 6:02pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 June, 2018, 11:26pm

The man supervising Hong Kong’s first social housing project using prefabricated container homes believes it could ultimately be the solution to solving the city’s housing crisis.

Stephen Lai Yuk-fai, the managing director of Rider Levett Bucknall, and lead consultant for the new scheme on Nam Cheong Street in Sham Shui Po, sees potential in the quick and affordable nature of the building technique.

A total of HK$35.7 million (US$4.5 million) has been budgeted for the 90-home project – which is expected to take about a year to complete – with HK$24.8 million set aside for the flats themselves and HK$10.9 million for construction.

That works out at an average of about HK$400,000 per flat, far less than the HK$840,000 average construction cost of non-prefabricated public rental housing.

With an ageing construction labour force, and a five-year wait to get into low-rent public housing, the need to build quickly and cheaply is paramount.

And Lai, whose firm is in charge of cost estimation, tendering and accounting for the project, believes success in Sham Shui Po could lay the groundwork for using the same method elsewhere.

“Public-sector housing is the most suitable for prefab manufacturing because it can provide flats in a short time at lower cost,” he said.

The mass production of prefab public housing, Lai added, could ease Hong Kong’s manpower shortage in the industry, with the average age of construction workers well over 50.

“If more housing can be made in factories by machines, we won’t need so many people to climb up and down to fix steel,” he said.

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“It will also standardise construction procedures and rely less on the individual standard of workers.”

Lai, who is also a member of the Construction Industry Council and a former president of the Institute of Surveyors, said five manufacturers of prefabricated, stackable housing from mainland China, Singapore, Australia and Britain, had expressed interest in the project.

According to Lai, several said prefab flats could be manufactured in two to three months, before being shipped to Hong Kong.

The managing director said the Sham Shui Po project, which is operated by the Hong Kong Council of Social Service, and where flats will measure between 143 and 287 sq ft, could eventually set benchmarks in terms of cost, planning, and construction, paving the way for projects on a larger scale in the future.

The Sham Shui Po project will feature free-standing units completely made in a factory, and transported to the construction site for installation.

Although some of Hong Kong’s previous public housing projects made use of prefabrication, only certain components came ready-built.

The first families, who will pay no more than a quarter of their monthly salaries in rent, are expected to move in around September next year.

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Another two prefab housing projects are being planned in Hong Kong, including a dormitory tower at the Science Park in Tai Po for staff members, and two student dormitory buildings in Wong Chuk Hang, for the University of Hong Kong.

The Science Park project is expected to provide 500 flats of 270 sq ft each by 2020, with rent between HK$8,000 and HK$10,000 a month.

The HKU project is expected to be completed by 2022, providing 1,228 flats of 70 sq ft each.