Housing relief should be extended to all in need
The so-called “nano apartments”, with an average size of just 150 square feet and costing less than HK$3 million each, are said to be selling like hotcakes.
According to a local mass circulation daily newspaper, these “affordable” homes are rapidly becoming popular with first-time homes buyers — mainly young families in the “sandwich” class who can’t afford the mediumsized, HK$5-million flats and whose household incomes are “too high” for them to qualify for government-built subsidized housing.
The “nano apartments”, which were put on the market by various developers earlier this year and once seen as an affront to public sensibilities, have now moved into the mainstream. In fact, studios and small flats are now regarded as a viable choice for young professionals in other major cities, including New York and London, who prefer to live in the urban areas near where they work and play instead of in the less expensive suburbs.
It’s only a matter of time before living in sub-divided flats — the curse of the urban poor in Hong Kong — wins recognition as a less unbearable alternative to being held hostage for life by exorbitant housing prices. Let’s face it — homes in land-scarce Hong Kong have never been “affordable”. It must be accepted they’re becoming even less affordable because, at least partly, of the rising demand from overseas and mainland Chinese buyers.
Latest official figures show that the Hong Kong government has some success in raising the supply of residential properties in the private sector. But, the increase in the number of completed flats is too small to satisfy the huge demand. As a result, prices have continued to escalate.
The government aims to shorten the waiting time for subsidizing housing to three years from four. But, the process is being hampered by the difficulties in finding suitable land and the high cost of building the infrastructure needed to sustain a large-scale residential community in a remote location.
Secretary for Transport and Housing Chan Fan had earlier broken the taboo by proposing to work with NGOs (non-governmental organizations) in converting old apartments into subdivided flats for lease to needy families at “reasonable” rentals. That was supposed to be a stopgap measure to ease the hardship of low-income families on the long waiting list for subsidized housing.
It’s a sensible plan to address the housing shortage problem rather than a heartless and crass proposal as described by some commentators and social activists. Perhaps, the government should consider expanding it to cater for the needs of families in the sandwich class.
Hong Kong’s skyrocketing homes prices have left many with no choice, but to put up with much smaller apartments after failing to obtain government-subsidized housing.