Li Suet-wen’s dream home would have a bedroom and living room where her two children could play and study. The reality is a one-room “shoebox” cubicle, one of five partitioned out of a small apartment in an aging walk-up in a working class Hong Kong neighborhood.
Into the 11m2 room are crammed a bunk bed, small couch, fridge, washing machine and tiny table. On one side of the door is a combined toilet and shower stall, on the other a narrow counter with a hotplate and sink.
Clothes drying overhead dim light from a bare fluorescent tube. It feels like a storage unit, not a home.
Li’s six-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter often ask: “Why do we always have to live in such small flats? Why can’t we live in a bigger place?” Li said.
“I say it’s because mommy doesn’t have any money,” said Li, a single mom whose HK$4,500 (US$580) a month in rent and utilities eats up almost half the HK$10,000 she earns at a bakery decorating cakes.
Housing costs are among the wealthy Asian financial center’s biggest problems.
About 200,000 of Hong Kong’s 7.3 million residents live in “subdivided units.” That is up 18 percent from four years ago and includes 35,500 children aged 15 and under, government figures showed.
The figure does not include many thousands more living in other “inadequate housing,” such as rooftop shacks, metal cages resembling rabbit hutches and “coffin homes” made of stacked wooden bunks.
It is a universe away from the lifestyles enjoyed by the rich living in lavish mountaintop mansions and luxury penthouses, or even those with middle-class accommodation in the former British colony.
Hong Kong regularly tops global property price surveys. Rents and home prices have steadily risen and are now at or near all-time highs.
The US-based consultancy Demographia has ranked it the world’s least affordable housing market for seven straight years, beating Sydney, Vancouver and 400 other cities.
Median house prices are 19 times the median income.
Beijing-backed Hong Kong chief executive-elect Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥), who was chosen in March, has vowed to tackle the housing crisis she is inheriting from her predecessor, Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (梁振英).
Lam says that after she takes office in July she will help middle-class families afford starter homes and expand the amount of land the government makes available for development.
“As everyone knows, for some time housing has been a troubling problem for Hong Kong,” she said in her victory speech. “I have pledged to assist Hong Kongers to attain home ownership and improve their living conditions. To do so we need more usable land. The key is to reach a consensus on how to increase the supply.”
Prices have soared despite multiple rounds of government cooling measures, as money floods in from China.
Widening inequality helped drive mass pro-democracy protests in 2014. Young people despair of ever owning homes of their own. They lack space even to have sex, one activist lawmaker said in the fall last year, using a coarse Cantonese slang term that caused a stir.
“If we cannot solve the housing problem, there will be more social problems,” said Sze Lai-shan (施麗珊), an organizer with social welfare group Society for Community Organization. “Social tensions will increase and people are [going to be] getting more annoyed with the government’s policies.”
Li said her children bicker nonstop.
“They fight over this and fight over that. If there’s a day off [from school], the two of them will argue,” she said. “The bigger they get, the more crowded it gets. Sometimes there’s not even any space to step. They don’t even have space to do their homework.”
Public housing is the best hope for most living on modest incomes. High-rise public housing estates house about 30 percent of Hong Kong’s 7 million people. If homes bought with government subsidies are included, the number rises to nearly half.
Li applied two years ago, but with 282,300 people on the waiting list the average wait is 4.7 years.
Wong Tat-ming, 63, has occupied an even smaller “coffin home” for four years.
He pays HK$2,400 a month for a 1m by 2m compartment crammed with his meager possessions, including a sleeping bag, a small color TV and an electric fan.
His bunk sits beside grimy toilets and a single sink shared by two dozen residents, including a few single women.
On a per square meter basis, “it’s not cheap here either,” Wong joked. “Would you say it’s more expensive than living in a mansion?”
Leg pain from sclerosis forced Wong to stop driving a taxi 10 years ago. He gets by on about HK$5,300 a month from welfare.
Wong is skeptical Lam can help.
“So she says she’s going to take care of these problems, but that will take at least seven to eight years,” he said.
Chan Geng-kau, who works here and there as a janitor, and his wife worry about being forced out of their hut in one of the territory’s “slums in the sky” atop a terrace of a Kowloon tenement bristling with TV antennas and crisscrossed by overhead wires.
The government plans to demolish the illegal concrete and corrugated metal huts.
“If they come to clear us out, my income isn’t high, I don’t earn very much and the apartments out there are very expensive, so I can’t afford it,” Chan, 58, said.
With his unstable income, he is barely able to pay his HK$2,000 a month rent.
“If I pay those rents, I can’t afford to eat,” he said.
FOX HUNT: To suppress dissent, Chinese living abroad that Xi Jinping sees as threats are told to either return to China or commit suicide, Christopher Wray said Chinese agents have been pursuing hundreds of Chinese nationals living in the US in an effort to force their return, as part of a global campaign against the country’s diaspora, known as Operation Fox Hunt, FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Tuesday. In a speech about the security threat posed by China, during which he said Beijing’s counterintelligence work was the “greatest long-term threat to our nation’s information and intellectual property, and to our economic vitality,” Wray gave the example of one Fox Hunt target who was given a choice of going back to China or killing themselves. Fox Hunt was launched
INTERNET CURBS: People are rushing to erase their digital footprints after police given powers over online activity, although it might take years for the full effect to be felt At midnight on Tuesday, the Great Firewall of China, the vast apparatus that limits the country’s Internet, appeared to descend on Hong Kong. Unveiling expanded police powers as part of contentious new national security legislation, the Hong Kong government enabled police to censor online speech, and force Internet service providers to hand over user information and shut down platforms. Many residents, already anxious since the legislation took effect last week, rushed to erase their digital footprint of any signs of dissent or support for the past year of protests. Hong Kong Legislator Charles Mok (莫乃光), a pro-democracy member of the Legislative
‘FIGHT FOR FREEDOM’: Hong Kongers will never bow to Beijing, the advocate said, while the US’ envoy to the territory called China’s new security law a ‘tragedy’ The world must stand in solidarity with Hong Kongers after Beijing imposed sweeping national security legislation on the semi-autonomous territory, advocate Joshua Wong (黃之鋒) said yesterday, vowing to continue campaigning for democracy. Wong, one of the territory’s most prominent young advocates and a figure loathed by Beijing, was speaking outside a court where he and fellow advocates are being prosecuted for involvement in last year’s pro-democracy protests. China last week enacted sweeping security legislation for the restless territory, banning acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. The legislation has sent a wave of fear through the territory, and criminalized dissenting
‘SUICIDE’: Media reports said Park Won-soon went missing on Thursday after a staff member filed a sexual harassment claim against him this week Seoul mayor Park Won-soon, viewed as a potential candidate for the 2022 presidential election, was found dead of an apparent suicide hours after he was reported missing, police said, adding that he was the subject of an undisclosed investigation. In a note he is thought to have left behind on his desk, Park offered his apologies. “I thank everyone who was with me in my life. I apologize to my family for only making them suffer from pain,” according to the note that was released by his office yesterday. Park, in his letter, asked to be cremated and have his remains spread