I was very excited to visit various public housing projects in HK during the 3- day fileld trip, as they appeared in my sight out of the books and reports for the first time.The public housing is an important feature of the residential housing in HK. Generally, it provides affordable housing for low-income residents with various schemes by HK government. It is organized and developed by Hong Kong Housing Authority . The Hong Kong Housing Authority is actually the largest landlord in the world and in 2011, 48% of the entire population in HK were living in subsidized rental/sale housing as surveyed. The projects we visited gave me a vivid picture of their construction and development patterns and enabled me to think more on top of their histories and stories.
|Distribution of Population by Type of Housing in 2011|
Source: Hong Kong Housing Authority
Day 1 Kowloon - Mei Tung and Lower Wong Tai Sin Estate
Walking along the quite streets in Wong Tai Sin and embraced by the “green carpets” all the way round, the area in Wong Tai Sin seems to be an wonderful quiet place for living, which is widely different from the busy and crowded scenes in Central and West of Hong Kong Island. There are 22 public housing estates in Wong Tai Sin District in total.
Minutes later, we arrived at the 1st project we would visit - Mei Tung Public Housing Estate  before we start our detailed survey at the next estate – Lower Wong Tai Sin Estate. Mei Tung Estate has 3 blocks in total and accommodates around 1500 units and 3600 residents there. They are under the Public Rental Housing Scheme by the Housing Authority and built old Slab, non-standard type of blocks. Besides the Mei Tung House, there are also 2 other blocks named Mei Po House and Mei Yan House. The Mei Tung House (picture 1) was completed in 1974 and named “6th Block” and renamed as Mei Tung House in June 1979 and is the smallest housing estate in Hong Kong. The Kowloon Walled City Park (original Kowloon Walled City) is just located opposite the Mei Tung Estate. There is also an “On Kee Kindergarten” located within the estate.We went inside one of the blocks in Mei Tung Estate. The ground floor was poorly decorated and rough. Each upper floor is with low roofs, narrow public corridors, old-fashioned unit doors, holed public windows at lift lobby etc. It seems unimaginable to live in such a place. The pictures below are snapshots inside the building.
|Mei Tung Estate|
The Lower Wong Tai Sin Estate  accommodates much more population than Mei Tung, in total, around 23,000 residents lived there in 8,400 units ranging from 14-60 sq. m. The lower Wong Tai Sin was developed in 2 phases. The phase I was under the “Public Rental Housing” scheme with intake in 1982. It has 15 blocks in total. The phase II was under the “Tenants Purchase Scheme” with 9 blocks in total and completed in 1989.
|Lower Wong Tai Sin Estate|
So even in one of the most prosperous global city like Hong Kong, there are still population living in poor conditions and this is not a small amount, as I mentioned above, the public housing serves for almost half of the total population in HK. In the process of HK’s fast-pace internationalization and economical development, there also still some internal imbalance, where they are not able to catch up the trend. Facing HK’s long-existing housing history and problems, there are still much effort to make, the authorities should still work hard at providing a more living-friendly environment and better housing facilities such large population.
Day 3 Island South - Wah Fu Estate
On the 3rd day, we went see one of the most famous public housing development in HK (in my opinion) – Wah Fu Estate . The Wah Fu Estate always appears on the public media. Just in this year’s policy address  by HK’s Chief Executive C Y Leung, he stated that the government plans to redevelop Wah Fu Estate, to provide about 11, 900 additional PRH and Home Ownership Scheme (HOS) units. It was one of the oldest public housing developments in HK and the 1st phase was delivered in November 1967. It was also famed by locating in Waterfall Bay, where there is very good natural scenery along the seaside. It was the debut public housing developed in format of towns with marketplace in side. Ancillary facilities also include parking lots, schools and library.
|Wah Fu Estate|
The Wah Fu Estate is a landmark project in the public housing history of HK. But, there is still defect, as some of the old phase blocks there are with structural hidden danger and HK’ s government are considering redevelop those blocks to guarantee safe. The Wah Fu Estate can be recognized as the “luxurious public housing” as it is equipped with comprehensive functions like the marketplace, car parks, school and library, not to mention it enjoys the beautiful seaview and with the waterfall bay nearby. Even some rich people would prefer to live the “public housing”, which has caused some “speculative activities” to some extent, just because the environment and scenery are so great in Wah Fu.
History and Background of Public Housing:
There is a long history in HK providing rental housing for low-income residents like the Hong Kong Housing Society, which was founded in 1948. Since the Opium War in 1841, there were influxes of refugees from mainland China suffering from the Tai Ping Rebellion (1850)
|Big Fire in She Kip Mei，1953|
, Chinese Revolution (1911), Anti-Japanese War (1937) and Civil War (1949) continuously. The refugees settled themselves in the squattered houses randomly. On Christmas Eve of 1953, a fire broke out in Shek Kip Mei and 53,000 people became homeless overnight. To accommodate these refugees efficiently, the HK government build H-shape resettlement blocks & squatters quickly in original places and later in other places in Kowloon. From then on, the HK government began to build public housing in large scales.
In 1972, the HK governor Crawford Murray MacLehose initiated a public housing scheme named “Ten Year Housing Programme” with aim to resettle 1.9 million people in 10 years. In 1973, the HK Housing Society was established and launched the “Home Ownership Scheme”, the “Private Institution Participation in Development Scheme” and rebuilt resettlement blocks in the following years. In 1978, the 1st series of housing blocks of the “Home Ownership Scheme” was launched officially. From then on, the government changed its attitude towards the public housing development from quantity to quality perspective. They began to focus on facilities and environments within public housing communities. Coordinate actively with the integrated urban development and develop new towns in New Territories. They tried to disperse the population in to new towns to solve the dense and unsecured situation in urban area.
The Ten Year Housing Programme did not achieve its expectation actually as the public housing was tailored for the middle-class and common citizen and somehow less attractive to private investors. In 1987, the government launched the “long-term housing policy” to promote the subsidized purchase housing. At the same time, the Sha Tin, Tsuen Wan and Tuen Mun new towns were completed, which underpin governments’ development ambitious.
However, in my opinion, there are still some concerns on the public housing in HK and is the super-scaled public housing really desirable? For instance, the 3 cases above, the Mei Tung, Lower Wong Tai Sin and Wah Fu Estates, they resettled the refugees and low-income residents in old days in the shortest possible time. The Mei Tung (1976), Lower Wong Dai Sin (1982) and Wah Fu Estate (1967) were no doubt pioneers of public housing in HK and accommodate thousands of residents who were in urgent need of residence. They contributed a lot to the social stability at that time of Hong Kong.
But there are some other aspects we need to think about:
On an economic logic, the Hong Kong government actually has a long term reliance on land income and they create the housing problem by government ownership of land – no private land to meet housing demands. Massive public housing projects like above cases were financed rather inefficiently, by income derived from land by land sales proceeds. As the public housing is subsidized, it further intensifies the economic pressure of the government, which seems costly to them, as on average, a 35 sq.m public housing flat may need around USD 1,100 subsidy per month from the government.
On accessibility and transportation viewpoint, the public housing projects are usually in Low mobility, there is always pressure on transportation. For our case - Mei Tung and Lower Wong Tai Sin Estate: during our walking there, we saw seldom public traffic passing by and few bus terminals and stops within vicinity, not to mention the public housing areas are already densely-populated. The residents there have to walk a long way to reach the nearest bus stops or just facilitate their daily commuting by walking. As for Wah Fu Estate, the problem was even more severe. When the Wah Fu Estate was first completed, it did not attract too many applicants as the estate is quite faraway from downtown area. There was not enough public traffic and the narrow Pok Fu Lam Road is the only passage for outside commuting. As mentioned above, the Wah Fu is also one the most populated residential area in HK with 50,000 residents in peak time and in 2011, the population was 27,953. This huge population base within these public housing projects undoubtedly increase burden for transport.
Besides economic and transportation pressure, most notable concern to the public is the quality and maintenance problem. Concrete spalling and water leakage are common scenes in public housing. In 1997, HK TV program reviewed that the concrete in 85% of 843 blocks built in the seventies were found below the standard strength of 20 MPA. Some of these blocks were only 15 years old. The Housing Authority also suffered much complaints ranged from water leakage, falling off of tiles and plastering, defective wiring, pavements opened up with no works in progress, lifts under maintenance for months, poor building management… etc. Take Wah Fu Estate as an example, it was one of the “Problematic Public Rental Housing “found in 1980s. There are structural problems inside the building due to low-quality concrete used in the construction. Some of the buildings in Wah Fu Estate need extra steel frame to erect. The giant steel frame need to be installed in the closed parts within the building and some large-scale repairing works are still needed to replace the original concrete and steels.
The public housing is a milestone in HK’s housing development and still a “tower of strength” even today, as mentioned, the housing problem is a long-existing problem and has great influence on the social stability. The public housing played a critical role in providing well-being for low-income residents in HK. If it cannot be dealt with well, there will be a social earthquake as the public housing serves almost half of the HK population.The history of public housing is in fact the history of housing development in HK. However, it seems that the fast-pace and large-scale public housing developments should slow down a little bit and rethink the past tracks when it encounters concerns on “economics, transport and quality”. With the continued population increase in HK and looking forward to the future, public housing have to cross over the “3 barriers” above to drive itself on a “stable high speed.” It is the sustainability that HK needs and the prosperity can only be continued under that way.
 Hong Kong Housing Authority (http://www.housingauthority.gov.hk/sc/index.html)
 Mei Tung Estate (http://www.housingauthority.gov.hk/en/global-elements/estate-locator/detail.html)
 Wong Tai Sin Public Housing (http://www.housingauthority.gov.hk/sc/global-elements/estate-locator/index.html)
 Wah Fu Estate (http://www.housingauthority.gov.hk/tc/global-elements/estate-locator/detail.html?propertyType=1&id=2744)
 2014 Policy Address, HK SAR (http://www.policyaddress.gov.hk/2014/eng/index.html)
 Hong Kong Housing Society (http://www.hkhs.com/index.asp)
 Development of HK Public Housing (http://www.housingauthority.gov.hk/en/about-us/public-housing-heritage/public-housing-development/index.html)
 Wah Fu Population Statistics 2011 (http://www.census2011.gov.hk/tc/main-table/A302.html)
 26 Problematic Public Rental Housing Scandal (http://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/26%E5%BA%A7%E5%95%8F%E9%A1%8C%E5%85%AC%E5%B1%8B%E9%86%9C%E8%81%9E)