Hong Kong's taking more actions to solve its housing crisis

Hong Kong has been dealing with a housing crisis for years.

Hong Kong's taking more actions to solve its housing crisis
Secretary for Housing Winnie Ho Wing-yin and Project Manager of the Architectural Services Department Edward Wong pose for photos before a news conference to introduce the new light public housing in Hong Kong, China January 30, 2023. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo

The backstory: Hong Kong has been dealing with a housing crisis for years. It’s one of the most expensive real estate markets in the world. One main issue stems from rising property prices with over a decade of super-low interest rates. Many homes can also be pretty small in this densely -packed city; poorer residents live in tiny units known colloquially as “cage homes.” And a report by Oxfam showed that the pandemic made Hong Kong’s wealth gap worse, with the richest residents making almost 50 times what the poorest earned in the first quarter of last year. Homelessness has also become a problem – according to the Social Welfare Department, over 1,500 people were registered as “street sleepers” from 2021 to 2022.

The development: Mainland China has called on Hong Kong authorities to take some action to address this housing crisis. President Xi Jinping called for “more decent” homes for the poor in Hong Kong. Now, the city has launched a HK$26 billion (US$3.3 billion) plan to build 30,000 temporary apartments, which will take about five years to complete. This program is supposed to give people another housing option while waiting for more permanent public housing. But critics of this plan say it’s proof that the government can’t provide enough fixed homes.

Key comments:

A view shows light public housing mock-up unit in Hong Kong, China, January 30, 2023. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo

“I’ve emphasized time and again that the provision of land and housing is a major area of the government’s attention and agenda,” Hong Kong’s Chief Executive John Lee told reporters.

“Every night on the streets is an emergency. This is a very wealthy city – but one in five at this moment are experiencing food insecurity,” said the founder of homelessness-fighting charity ImpactHK, Jeffrey Rotmeyer, to Al Jazeera. “These are scary times. We’ve seen the percentage of females on the street double [since the pandemic], and we’ve seen about a 25 percent increase overall. And we are seeing homeless communities pop up in new areas.”

“This is a very important social project, the value of light public housing is to give people an option to move out of very poor living conditions while they are still waiting for public rental housing,” said Hong Kong’s Secretary for Housing Winnie Ho.

“It could be an indication that they couldn’t really tackle the challenge of building more permanent public housing fast enough,” said Ho-fung Hung, a political economy professor at Johns Hopkins University.