In Hong Kong, heated debate over the government’s plan to build temporary public housing on a prime commercial area may test the limits of free expression. It has thrown into stark relief the enormous divide between the city’s haves and have-nots.
In a city of 125,100 millionaires
, an acute shortage of public housing and sky-high property prices have forced Hong Kong’s poorest residents to squeeze into “coffin homes
.” These subdivided units in tenements are so named because of their tiny size.
Over the years, Hong Kong leaders have failed to keep their promises to tackle the housing crisis. The result: The number of subdivided households increased by almost 17 per cent – from 91,787 in 2016, to 107,371 in 2021, according to the Liber Research Community, a Hong Kong research group
. A total of 215,709 people lived in subdivided dwellings in 2021 – including 1,505 foreign domestic workers – according to the government’s 2021 census. The average waiting time for public housing is 5.6 years.
To temporarily ease the housing crunch, the government plans to spend US$3.3 billion to build about 30,000 units of “light public housing
” over the next five years. Since construction takes up to five years, Liber Research Community says the plan won’t cut the waiting time for public housing applicants.
Meanwhile, many residents
oppose a plan to build 10,000 homes on commercial site in Kai Tak. They question the US$1.2 billion construction cost of the flats
and worry that the housing project would further delay the area’s development into a second central business district. One lawmaker
said the construction could obstruct the views of residents in nearby private complexes.
, Deputy Financial Secretary Michael Wong Wai-lun warned the dissatisfied residents against opposing the Kai Tak project. The South China Morning Post
reports that in a Facebook post, Wong said: “It’s not only unwise to constantly stir up social conflict, or even publicly bad-mouth the area’s value, but it’s also harmful to oneself and others.”
The mainland Chinese law against “picking quarrels and provoking trouble
” has been weaponized to muzzle dissent. People in the mainland
and in Hong Kong
who are found guilty of the vaguely worded offense face up to five years in prison.