Hong Kong housing

Former poetry club with more than 1,000 books turns low-cost housing option for two single-mother families in Hong Kong

Local social enterprise unveils new shared home for two single-mother families, under project which also saves the flat’s distinctive character

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 October, 2018, 8:31pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 October, 2018, 2:03pm

A former poetry club with more than 1,000 books has found a new lease of life – as an affordable shared flat for two single-mother families.

The 600 sq ft flat in Ho Man Tin, Kowloon, is part of a project launched by social enterprise Light Be to provide affordable housing for poor families, but with a new twist. The project aims to integrate historical preservation with poverty alleviation.

Not only will the flat give the families a roof over their heads for up to three years, but the project will preserve the flat’s original characteristics, and host activities to benefit the wider community.

“When I first saw the flat with all its books and paintings, I thought what a pity it would be if we had to wipe out all traces of its precious history here,” said the company’s chief executive, Ricky Yu Wai-yip. “So that’s when I thought we could preserve it by keeping the books, but also partly renew it to help poor families.”

The flat will be opened two to three times a month for 20 to 30 families living nearby in other shared homes under Light Be, for a book club. As well as catering to community needs, it is aimed at nurturing good reading habits in mothers and their children.

The poetry club, which shut down recently, previously held gatherings with prominent literary figures, such as pupils of the influential Chinese poet Yu Kwang-chung.

The 1,000 books stored along a 10ft-long wall of shelves ranged from poetry to philosophy. The enterprise will add and change up the variety of books, such as by including children’s books, regularly.

Founded in 2012, Light Be runs two affordable-housing projects, one for single mothers and another for low-income families of three or more.

It has so far collected 120 flats from charitable landlords to be rented out at below the market rate, benefiting more than 700 people. Landlords lease the flat to the enterprise at about 30 to 50 per cent of the market rate, while tenants pay rent tailored to what each family can afford.

Tenants are allowed to stay in their flat for a maximum of three years, but the average stay has been two years, the group said.

Yu called the concept “social realty”, an initiative that aims to create a social impact by bringing about change in the property sector.

Under this new project, the enterprise will try to match the personality and aspirations of the tenant to the distinct character of the flat.

The two single mothers in this flat, for example, showed an interest in reading and also a desire to cultivate better reading habits for their children, Light Be said.

Yu said he aimed to launch 100 of the homes over the next three to four years, with other possible themes such as gardening.

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Ling Chow, 32, lives with her husband and her three-year-old son in a 300 sq ft flat in Sham Tseng, Tsuen Wan district, under another Light Be scheme, where they participate in regular book club meetings.

“Before, we were six people crammed into a 300 sq ft flat. There was not enough space for my son to have a proper study table, let alone enough space for us to live comfortably. But here, with more communal spaces and regular meetings, he now takes an interest in reading and will go and borrow books from neighbours and ask his friends’ parents to read storybooks to him,” Chow said.

The government has promised to explore the idea of providing more transitional housing, especially for people stuck in the queue for public housing.

But with more than 210,000 people living in cramped, subdivided quarters, many of them forced to pay exorbitant rents, the staggering demand for adequate housing means NGOs have had to take the lead.

The Hong Kong Council of Social Service, with government support, launched an affordable shared housing project last year, aiming to supply 500 flats for 1,000 poor households over three years.

Separately, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, the city’s largest pro-Beijing political party, urged the government to allow temporary housing to be built on a 54,000 sq ft plot of land in Sham Shui Po.

The site, now being used by the Lands Department for slope maintenance and improvement works, would be able to house 200 prefabricated units for people living in subdivided flats, or those who have been waiting for public housing for more than three years.