Habitat for Humanity Hong Kong [“Habitat Hong Kong”] welcomes the Chief Executive’s policy announcements around long-term plans to increase land and housing supply. The CE noted that many view the poverty problem of Hong Kong to be a housing problem, and we couldn’t agree more. As a foundation from which to access employment, education, and health services, housing can be a pathway out of poverty and a strong driver of socio-economic inclusion. Stable and adequate shelter can be key to improving people’s health, well-being, and ability to thrive. We welcome the announcement of increased public and transitional housing supply. We put forward suggestions below to further the implementation of housing policies informed by the right to adequate housing.
Urban Renewal and Community-based Planning
Habitat Hong Kong recognises that new urban renewal initiatives aim to enhance the efficient use of land and improve residents’ quality of living. As areas are renewed however, there is risk that land and housing prices may increase, putting pressure on landlords to increase rents. The areas under study by the URA for urban renewal – Yau Ma Tei, Mong Kok, Tsuen Wan, and Sham Shui Po – have some of the highest concentrations of subdivided flats. To mitigate potential negative effects of gentrification on tenants the government should incorporate community participation in decision-making and planning processes. Residents are best placed to contribute place-based knowledge and context vital to creating an inclusive community for the benefit of everyone. The government can support a shared vision of redevelopment that values the health, well-being, and inclusion of all residents, along with increased economic activity.
Redevelopment and Resettlement
We support the redevelopment of buildings over 50 years old so that residents may improve their living conditions, but would like to express our concerns regarding tenant relocation. The Alliance for Better Re-housing Policy documented gaps in tenant access to resettlement protections due to third party actions. Some landlords who receive a clearance order from the government resort to informal means, such as cutting off water and electricity supply, to force tenants out of their flat instead of following the formal court processes. Lacking a court order, tenants are blocked from petitioning for temporary housing and thus unable to access the protections available to those being displaced by government actions.1 This situation highlights the need for taking care in relocating tenants. The government should review the current resettlement policy, broaden its scope, provide relocation subsidies to all tenants affected by government relocation actions, and launch public consultations to identify other gaps in protections.
The development of an extensive new metropolitan area brings with it the necessary displacement of residents. If not managed carefully, large-scale displacement can result in the disintegration of community, the loss of employment opportunities, and the risk of further impoverishment for vulnerable people.2 A home is more than simply four walls, and residents with great attachment to their current place and location of residence may experience pain and hardship when displaced. With these concerns in mind, the government should take great care in preserving aspects of life affected by being resettled such as communities and livelihoods, in addition to ensuring adequate financial compensation to individuals relocated by this development.
In developing rural areas in the New Territories, the government should consider revisiting the “Small House Policy (SHP)” through a gender equality lens. Whilst it is unclear the role this policy may play in development of the Northern Metropolis area, such large-scale change and development could be a fresh opportunity to address this explicitly discriminatory policy against female indigenous villagers. The government should ensure that women are represented in decision making bodies that oversee the creation of housing policies at all levels of government.
Climate Resilient Housing
Globally, it is the most vulnerable and most inadequately housed that often experience the greatest brunt of rising temperatures and other extreme weather. As part of a strategy to reduce carbon emissions, the Chief Executive put forward the goal to reduce the electricity consumption of residential buildings by 20-30% by 2050. In developing new affordable housing, the government might consider designing climate change resilient buildings that incorporate structural designs to help reduce heat inside buildings and other climate resilient innovations.
Barrier Free Access and Aging in Place
In 2008, the Buildings Department strengthened the Design Manual on barrier free access. Yet the implementation of proper design requirements lags. When homes and facilities are not accessible, members of our community experience exclusion and discrimination. We support the CE’s intention to increase services to enable the elderly and persons with disabilities to age in place. Numerous community organizations, including Habitat Hong Kong, are undertaking initiatives to this end. However, while a home with structural modifications is a start, barriers still exist when community facilities are not accessible – i.e. pavement kerbs are not sloped, stores and health care facilities do not have ramps, tactile guides are lacking etc. The government should ensure that barrier free and/or universal design is incorporated into all buildings and community facilities to promote equitable use and independent living both inside and outside the home.
Inadequate Housing Conditions
The CE focused on a long-term vision for the future and declined to address the immediate improvement of inadequate housing conditions, specifically in SDUs and other substandard housing. Yet this topic is of urgent importance. The tenancy control ordinance for subdivided units (SDUs) under consideration in LegCo is a step toward improving affordability and secure tenure for tenants. The HKSAR Government should build on this progress by putting forward measures to both incentivise and enforce upkeep, repairs, and hygienic conditions to mitigate the further decline of SDU housing conditions that in many cases are already dire.
Habitat Hong Kong would welcome a dialogue with the administration on measures to improve living conditions in SDUs and the consideration of minimum standards we submitted to the CE’s office prior to the policy address.
1: Guide to Rental Issues for Residents in Sub-divided Units, HKSKH Lady MacLehose Centre Group and Work Unit, (November 2019)
2: Vanclay, Frank, Project-induced displacement and resettlement: from impoverishment risks to an opportunity for development?, Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal, (2017)
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