Gov­ern­ment-led sub­di­vided units scheme worth a try

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT -

The hous­ing short­age is be­com­ing a se­vere prob­lem in Hong Kong. Prop­erty prices have risen to such high lev­els that many peo­ple find them un­af­ford­able. The long queue for pub­lic rental hous­ing has length­ened since the last ad­min­is­tra­tion and shows no sign of slow­ing down. Many low-in­come fam­i­lies now live in sub­di­vided units which are small and not well main­tained. Those sub­di­vided units were of­ten con­structed with no proper reg­u­la­tory ap­proval hence there are al­ways safety con­cerns. Many prob­lems such as over-crowded liv­ing con­di­tions, poor hy­giene and fire haz­ards are of­ten as­so­ci­ated with th­ese sub­di­vided units. Worse still, rents of such un­de­sir­able hous­ing units are of­ten very high.

The new sec­re­tary for trans­port and hous­ing men­tioned that it was pos­si­ble for the gov­ern­ment to take the lead and pro­vide sub­di­vided units to those who are in the queue for pub­lic rental hous­ing on a tem­po­rary ba­sis. The idea is for the gov­ern­ment to co­op­er­ate with non-gov­ern­ment or­ga­ni­za­tions in look­ing for old build­ings which are slated for re­de­vel­op­ment soon. The NGOs could be as­signed the task of ren­o­vat­ing those idle build­ings into sub­di­vided units to pro­vide tem­po­rary hous­ing to peo­ple queu­ing for pub­lic rental hous­ing. Of course, the con­ver­sion into sub­di­vided units will be done on a le­gal way and con­form to var­i­ous safety reg­u­la­tions.

This idea has gen­er­ated mixed pub­lic re­ac­tion. On the one hand, this new idea has won the sup­port of many on the ground who said it would give so­ci­ety a much-needed so­lu­tion to ease the se­vere hous­ing short­age. Since the sub­di­vided units are to be ren­o­vated from ex­ist­ing build­ings with the needed in­fra­struc­ture, con­ver­sion will be quick. Hence the sub­di­vided units can be pro­vided to the needy in a min­i­mal time. Also, the build­ings to be con­verted are al­ready slated for re­de­vel­op­ment. The con­ver­sion, by def­i­ni­tion, is only tem­po­rary as th­ese build­ings will be re­de­vel­oped soon. There will not be a prob­lem of reg­u­lar­iz­ing the sub­di­vided units into for­mal pub­lic hous­ing. Per­haps the big­gest ad­van­tage of this idea is that those sub­di­vided units will be reg­u­lated. There­fore they will not com­mand high rental prices, and they will con­form to all le­gal re­quire­ments.

How­ever, not­with­stand­ing the mer­its of this idea, some crit­ics said it would not work. Much of the crit­i­cism lies in op­er­a­tional de­tails. For ex­am­ple, though the con­ver­sion time is rel­a­tively short, the sub­di­vided units are in­tended for tem­po­rary use only. In terms of costs and ben­e­fits, it will be un­eco­nom­i­cal The au­thor is dean of the School of Con­tin­u­ing Ed­u­ca­tion at Hong Kong Bap­tist Univer­sity.

For the idea of the gov­ern­ment tak­ing a role in pro­vid­ing sub­di­vided units, we can have some pi­lot runs to ex­plore if the scheme works or not. Only through tri­a­land-er­ror can we have bet­ter poli­cies.

if the newly sub­di­vided units are to be torn down and re-de­vel­oped in a short pe­riod of time. If the sub­di­vided units are to stay for a long time, there could be a lot of man­age­ment con­cerns as the oc­cu­pants may have lengthy ten­an­cies, or there will be mul­ti­ple rounds of move-ins and move-outs. An­other con­cern is that the NGOs are sup­posed to be spe­cial­ized in so­cial ser­vices; they are not real-es­tate agents. Man­ag­ing build­ings and sub­di­vided units will re­quire a lot of knowl­edge and ex­per­tise in real es­tate. Whether the NGOs can han­dle those prop­er­ties is a valid ques­tion. More­over, peo­ple may per­ceive that the gov­ern­ment has no ef­fec­tive way to solve the hous­ing short­age prob­lem and has to re­sort to pro­vid­ing sub­di­vided units to res­i­dents.

I do not go to ex­tremes but rather see the sug­ges­tion as a new idea worth study­ing and try­ing. My view is that we can never ac­com­plish any­thing if we just sit on our hands and do noth­ing. We need to take risks and ac­cept that not ev­ery trail will lead to fruits. This is the kind of men­tal­ity or at­ti­tude we should have when de­lib­er­at­ing any cre­ative or in­no­va­tive idea or pol­icy ini­tia­tive. For the idea of the gov­ern­ment tak­ing a role in pro­vid­ing sub­di­vided units, we can have some pi­lot runs to ex­plore if the scheme works or not. Only through trial-and-er­ror can we have bet­ter poli­cies.

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