CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 15 December 2018

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Make more public housing available forum urges government

HONG KONG (SE): The Hong Kong government must address the plight of people living in subdivided flats, who are deprived of the basic human right to housing, by substantially increasing the supply of public housing, the Catholic Messengers of Green Consciousness said. 
 
The group organised a forum on August 13 at St. Vincent’s Chapel, Wong Tai Sin, to look into the hardships of grassroots people who are compelled to live in subdivided units.
 
Lee Siu-kan, project leader of Caritas Community Development Service, pointed out that tenants in such units constantly face pressures such as rent hikes, forced eviction, crowded living conditions, noise and poor ventilation. He said the lack of privacy and the lack of space to move or read can stir up negativity and even cause family conflicts.
 
Lee had a couple of recommendations for the consideration of the government. The first is to increase the supply of public housing units instead of private ones as the former offers a stable home. He said the government should also offer rental subsidies and protect the right of lease renewal.
 
The population by-census carried out in 2016, showed that there were over 27,000 flats which had been subdivided into 92,000 units, accommodating over 200,000 people. Residents who have applied for public housing need to wait for 5.3 years on average. 
 
Wong Ching-yi, a mother who has been living in a subdivided unit for five years while waiting for public housing, said living in a dimly-lit room without a window affects one’s disposition. She shared that the living conditions are bad and her son had no place to do his homework.
 
Oblate Father John Wotherspoon who has been living in a subdivided unit for nine years in Temple Street, Yau Ma Tei, shared that he deeply understands the difficulties faced by the grassroots. To empathise with those living in such conditions, he lives on a bare minimum, with a bunk bed, a folding table and a computer desk in his room. The upper bed is the only place for storage. He also tries to save water by using a single bucket of water to bathe, wash his clothes and flush the toilet every day.
 
The priest said his way of living has enabled him to understand the hardships of the grassroots even better. He said being a neighbour of the poor, the homeless, drug addicts and former prisoners has allowed him to see how they suffer in poor living conditions, and how they are forced to move out due to hike in property rent.
 
He hopes his way of living will draw more attention from the government to the housing needs of the grassroots.
 
Father Wotherspoon set up MercyHK last year (Sunday Examiner, August 5) in order to offer accommodation for the homeless and former prisoners. He also hopes that the Church can help the homeless like the so-called McRefugees—those homeless people who spend their nights at 24-hour fast-food restaurants. 
 
He believes parishes can set up groups to regularly visit these people, listen to their stories and find a home for them. 
 
Father Anthony Chang Sang-loy urged the government to increase the supply of public housing as soon as possible and to come up with more measures to improve the living conditions of the grassroots. 
 
He stressed that housing is a basic human right and that living conditions can greatly affect physical and spiritual health, but he lamented that this is being sorely lacking in Hong Kong.
 
The Catholic Messengers of Green Consciousness organised four forums addressing the housing issues in Hong Kong on July 30, August 6, 13 and 20. Topics discussed included the uneven distribution of land (Sunday Examiner, August 26), the possibility of developing the Fanling Golf Club and the brownfield sites instead of reclamation, the plight of those living in subdivided flats and the huge demand for public housing.

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