Hong Kong housing

Task force visits Hong Kong’s poor in the flats they share with hundreds of bed bugs 

Chairman Stanley Wong believes the desire to build on Fanling Golf Course is not unreasonable, but Regina Ip does not agree

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 April, 2018, 7:06pm
UPDATED : Monday, 30 April, 2018, 12:19pm

Members of the Task Force on Land Supply were shown a “bottle of bed bugs” after they visited subdivided flats in Sham Shui Po on Sunday.

Led by Stanley Wong Yuen-fai, the task force’s chairman, and his deputy, Greg Wong Chak-yan, nine members visited two families living in inadequate housing in Sham Shui Po.

The task force launched a five-month public engagement exercise last Thursday, with the hope of finding a consensus among Hongkongers on how to ease the city’s housing difficulties.

A 70-year-old man, surnamed Tang, told Stanley Wong that he had been queuing for public housing for two years.

“For single elderly applicants, the average (waiting time) is 2.6 years. Of course, if we can find land to build public housing, we hope to shorten the time,” Stanley Wong said.

The chairman said Tang’s room barely had space for two people, adding that the experience motivated the task force in doing its work.

The members then attended a forum with residents hosted by the Society for Community Organisation.

A woman, surnamed Hung, brought a plastic bottle with her that she had used to collect bed bugs.

“This is all in a week’s time, more than 200 of them,” Hung said, as she held up the bottle.

According to Hung, she lives in a subdivided flat which is 30-sq feet in size, and costs her HK$1,900 a month to rent.

Some residents said the government should use the 170-hectare golf course in Fanling for housing development, saying the size of the course was disproportionate to the number of members of the club. 

Using the plot for golf was making a “sacrifice” of those on the waiting list for public rental housing, a resident said.

Stanley Wong said the task force did not have a stance on whether the Hong Kong Golf Club should be turned into housing estates, but said residents’ opinions were “reasonable”.

“The number of members are relatively small, the plot is relatively large, and the rent is low,” he said.

Will Hong Kong’s ‘big debate’ on land supply end up as just another talking shop?

This comes as New People’s Party chairwoman Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, also an executive councillor serving as an adviser to Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, said the public engagement exercise could “provoke more confrontations”.

Ip, one of the Hong Kong Golf Club’s 2,600 members, speaking on a radio programme on Sunday, slammed those eyeing the Fanling golf course for wrongly overestimating the flats the land could accommodate.

“Some think tanks said it could accommodate 100,000 flats. It is ridiculous,” she said, adding that the move could “devastate” Hong Kong’s golfing pedigree.

She also criticised the entire consultation for being too broad and open-ended, with HK$12 million being spent on public relations.

The government, sooner or later, has to bite the bullet and state its policy preference
Regina Ip, executive councillor

“There are concerns in many quarters that the consultation could get out of hand, in the sense that it will only provoke more confrontations and conflict without being able to foster a community-wide consensus,” she said. 

“I think the government, sooner or later, has to bite the bullet and state its policy preference.”

Stanley Wong said he thought Ip was wrong to say the consultation would divide society, pointing out that it had long been split on the issue of housing.

“If we don’t do the exercise, does that mean society is not divided?” Wong asked.

The chairman said he hoped people could remain rational and open during the exercise.

He also said he had spent nights in the city’s “caged homes” as a youngster. His grandfather had worked in Sham Shui Po and had lived in a caged home.

When he was a secondary school pupil he would sometimes spend nights with his grandfather, he said.

“The problem is – the caged homes from some 50 years ago still exist today,” he said.

Speaking earlier at RTHK’s City Forum, Wong said every one of the proposed options would affect the related stakeholders, and he expected everyone to participate in the debate in a positive and practical way.

No consistency in land supply targets

Ip Po-lam, of Concerning Grassroots’ Housing Rights Alliance, told the forum she supported listing the development of the 172-hectare Fanling golf course as a priority.  

“Developing the golf course would affect only around 2,000 members but would already solve the [housing] needs for the poor,” Ip said, referring to those living in subdivided flats and thousands in line waiting for public housing. 

Chan Kim-ching, a research member of private foundation Liber Research Community, said the more pressing problem was the distribution of flats rather than shortage of land supply. 

He proposed the government employ the Lands Resumption Ordinance to take back brownfields.