From the Peak to the pits: our unequal city

From the Peak to the pits: our unequal city

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Thousands of poor families who live in cramped conditions are hoping for better housing.
Thousands of poor families who live in cramped conditions are hoping for better housing.

Charmed by Hong Kong's diverse culture, magnetic energy and timeless beauty, many foreigners move to the city in pursuit of opportunities.

But Hong Kong is one of the most expensive places to live, with rents even higher than in Singapore and New York. The average rent for a three-bedroom flat in a popular area, such as the Peak, is US$11,444 per month. The demand for this kind of housing usually comes from well-off expats. No matter how ridiculously high the rent is, there is always a big demand for luxury flats.

However, beside the upscale housing and iconic skyscrapers, there is a forgotten group of people - poor families who live in cramped flats.

Not many people think about the issue of income inequality in Hong Kong. While there are no official figures, at least 200,000 people live in "cage homes" here. They lead a tough life with no proper place to eat, study or sleep. The government has promised to provide them with better accommodation: there are more than 220,000 people on the waiting list for public housing, and the average wait is almost three years.

In addition, a series of measures has been introduced to bring down property prices and reduce poverty.

The government has also imposed a tax on property purchases by foreign investors to deter speculation which leads to higher property prices; and given out one-off subsidies to the underprivileged.

These policies have been successful so far: home prices fell 1 per cent compared to those in 2012. But considering the severe rich-poor gap, more needs to be done.

The average income in Hong Kong is US$36,500 a year. Compare this with the fact that some people are willing to pay more than US$11,000 a month for a flat on the Peak.

It's sad to see such extreme living conditions. An age-old quote comes to mind: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

I sincerely hope that beyond all the magnificence and glamour, more attention will be paid to the poor.

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
From the Peak to the pits: our unequal city

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