Hong Kong houseboat community of 200 families faces eviction from Discovery Bay Marina Club
‘Ruined’ lives lamented as some residents consider leaving city in search of more affordable housing options
A floating community of some 200 families in a popular residential area on Hong Kong’s largest outlying island is facing eviction, as the marina they live in will be closed for renovation in three months.
Boat owners said the Discovery Bay Marina Club on Lantau Island did not tell them whether there was any arrangement for their boats after the closure at the end of the year.
To some who have poured most of their income into buying and maintaining the live-aboard boats, their major assets will now become almost “worthless”, as one family put it, because liveable marinas – supplying electricity, water, gas and internet access – are all full elsewhere in the city.
It will be also difficult for them to buy a flat on land in the world’s least affordable property market.
“The only option is moving to another country,” said a 52-year-old who had been living on board in the marina for a decade. “Our home is being taken away. All the money my wife and I made went into the boat. And it’s now worthless ... It’s life-changing.”
He preferred to stay anonymous, citing fear of retribution from HKR International (HKRI), which owns the marina and Discovery Bay.
On Friday, the club issued a notice saying all memberships and debentures, or memberships for sale, would expire on December 31. The associated berthing permits would also terminate then.
Opened in 1989, the club provided 220 piers and 42 dry berths. There are also members who only sign up to use club facilities.
According to marina residents, between 150 and 200 families live aboard.
“Members whose vessels are placed or moored at the [berths] at the marina are requested to make arrangements to remove their vessels and belongings,” the notice read.
“Any vessels or articles left behind after the said date shall be removed and disposed of at members’ costs.”
The anonymous resident, who works in the banknote printing business, said his family bought its boat for HK$4.5 million (US$573,000) in 2009 on the mainland. Its living space spans about 2,000 sq ft, and the family just paid off the mortgage last week, he said.
He also paid HK$400,000 in 1997 for a debenture to secure the boat’s berthing space.
Unable to buy a flat on land at the top of the market, he said the family, which includes his pregnant wife and a five-year-old daughter, might relocate to Thailand or Singapore after the closure to search for cleaner air and a better living environment.
Christian Mueller, a former boat resident at the marina, believed there might be many families caught between the marina closure and a mortgage. He said it was normal for a live-aboard boat now to cost about HK$8 million.
“It’s all average families in the marina,” he added. “This decision will ruin the lives of many people. No matter how fancy [living aboard] sounds, it is cheap by Hong Kong housing price standards, and within one night, your home is basically destroyed. My wife and I had a sleepless night feeling for all our friends there.”
Mueller said the floating community was not wealthy and he feared that “the majority will be broke” after the closure.
Richard Carrey, a 52-year-old boat owner who does not live aboard, noted he would have nowhere to relocate his two boats.
He said he had looked at other marinas and mooring places in town, even considering the mainland, but to no avail.
The IT sector professional said he bought his primary boat for HK$4 million, including a debenture of HK$3 million. Monthly costs were as high as HK$20,000, he estimated.
But he said the face value of the debenture was HK$100,000.
Debenture holders redeem their certificates at their face value.
According to the notice issued on Friday, the marina will be closed for “extensive repair, renovation and maintenance works” from the start of next year.
HKRI has not responded to a request for comment on questions such as how many people will be affected, the face value of the debentures and development plans for the marina.
Amy Yung Wing-sheung, an Islands District Council member for Discovery Bay, said she had received many complaints from marina residents on Saturday.
She said she wondered whether the closure without further arrangement for its users might be tied in some way to HKRI’s 2016 plan to develop a 680,000 sq ft housing and recreation complex near the marina. The development would include 74 residential blocks with 1,125 flats. The company later withdrew the plan after opposition from Discovery Bay residents.
Hong Kong Boating Industry Association chairman Simon Boyd blasted the closure news.
“This is a disastrous decision for leisure marine in Hong Kong as there already is a critical shortage of space for moorings, with long waiting lists in all secure mooring areas with the exception of Hei Ling Chau (east of Lantau), which is not very accessible to boat owners,” Boyd said.