Hong Kong asks: what to do with 40,000 empty Covid quarantine units in a housing shortage?

Hong Kong

Behind the gleaming skyscrapers and multimillion-dollar properties which have made this metropolis the world’s most costly property market lies a far much less engaging parallel actuality: one of many world’s seemingly most intractable housing crises.

Welcome to Hong Kong, the place the typical dwelling sells for effectively north of one million {dollars} – and even a parking area can go for near one million – however the place greater than 200,000 individuals face waits of at the least half a decade for backed public housing.

The place far beneath the billionaire’s row of The Peak and its ultra-exclusive properties that routinely change arms for a whole bunch of tens of millions of {dollars}, one in 5 individuals dwell beneath the poverty line – outlined in Hong Kong as 50% of the median month-to-month family earnings earlier than welfare – and plenty of name dwelling a cramped subdivided unit or perhaps a cage in a dilapidated tenement block.

The reason for the issue, in response to the town’s authorities, is comparatively easy: a persistent lack of provide that’s unable to fulfill the demand of greater than 7 million residents crammed into what are already among the world’s most densely populated neighborhoods.

Housing “tops the agenda,” the town’s chief govt John Lee insisted in his maiden coverage deal with in October, as he pledged to construct 30,000 models within the subsequent 5 years – a promise that follows an order by the central authorities in Beijing to prioritize the difficulty.

However critics have lengthy been skeptical of the native authorities’s reliance on land premiums, gross sales and taxes, which account for roughly 20% of its annual revenues. Critics say this earnings stream supplies an incentive for it to maintain provide tight, limiting what will be performed to resolve the issue.

CNN requested the Hong Kong authorities whether or not its income from land gross sales and premiums impacts its housing coverage. The Improvement Bureau replied that, “The federal government is firmly dedicated to sustaining a gentle and sustained land provide by way of a multi-pronged strategy to fulfill the housing and socio-economic improvement wants of the group.”

Units at Penny's Bay Community Isolation Facility sit empty on March 1, 2023.

Whereas that debate rages, the abrupt latest unraveling of the town’s harsh anti-Covid measures has thrown a curveball into the combination that – in response to those self same critics – presents a litmus check as to the federal government’s willpower to resolve the issue.

Many at the moment are calling on the authorities to repurpose the huge Covid quarantine camps the town constructed through the pandemic to isolate a whole bunch of 1000’s of individuals and which at present lie empty and unused.

As Paul Zimmerman, a councilor in Hong Kong’s southern district and co-founder of the urban-planning advocacy group Designing Hong Kong, put it: “Now the query is: what to do with them?”

The reply to that query could also be much less simple than it at first appears.

The camps have been one among Hong Kong’s extra controversial anti-Covid measures – alongside the world’s longest masks mandate and obligatory resort isolation durations of as much as three weeks – and have been opposed on the time of their building not solely amongst those that decried what they noticed as draconian quarantine necessities.

The camps additionally raised the hackles of presidency critics who mentioned their speedy and costly building gave the misinform the narrative that Hong Kong’s housing downside was merely unsolvable.

Hong Kong authorities haven’t revealed to the general public how a lot the community of quarantine amenities value. However its complete spending invoice on the pandemic prior to now three years has run to $76 billion (HK$600 billion), in response to the town’s monetary secretary. CNN has reached out to the Chief Government’s workplace, Safety Bureau, Well being Bureau and Improvement Bureau in regards to the prices of constructing and working these quarantine camps.

Public housing plans are normally topic to years of pink tape, however within the case of the quarantine camps the federal government managed to all of a sudden “discover” round 80 hectares of land and construct 40,000 pre-fabricated metallic models in a matter of months.

Brian Wong, of the native suppose tank Liber Analysis Neighborhood, is amongst those that query why the federal government can’t take a equally speedy strategy and bypass pink tape to resolve what it has itself acknowledged is an pressing housing disaster.

Wong and others argue the federal government’s alleged reliance on land income is susceptible to turning housing into “a structural downside” that can’t be “meaningfully solved.”

“Even when the federal government desires to make land inexpensive, they received’t try this as a result of there’s an excessive amount of at stake,” mentioned Wong, who’s important of what he sees as official indecision and inaction that he says comes on the expense of the town’s poorest individuals.

He sees the vacant camps as providing a litmus check of the federal government’s willpower to behave and has referred to as for the models to be repurposed into social housing, arguing that it might be “very embarrassed if these containers are left vacant or wasted.”

CNN has requested the Hong Kong authorities what it plans to do with the previous quarantine camps. It mentioned it might announce its plans “after a choice is made.”

Solely three out of the eight purpose-built quarantine and isolation camps have truly been used; the remaining 5 have been placed on stand-by as vaccination charges rose and an infection numbers dipped.

The most important and maybe most notorious of the camps is Penny’s Bay, a website subsequent to Hong Kong’s Disneyland, the place greater than 270,000 individuals stayed in almost 10,000 models throughout its 958 days of operation that ended on March 1. A second is positioned subsequent to the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal and a 3rd close to a transport container port. The remainder are dotted alongside the town’s northern outskirts close to the border with mainland China.

Measuring round 200 sq. ft, every unit is roughly the scale of a automotive parking area and accommodates a easy rest room, bathe and mattress. Just some have kitchens.

Nonetheless, whereas the models are spartan, many argue they might nonetheless supply a gorgeous non permanent answer for individuals who can’t afford the town’s excessive rents. In Hong Kong, in response to knowledge compiled by property company Centaline, even “nano-flats” measuring 215 sq. ft have just lately bought for as a lot as $445,000 – equal to greater than $2,000 per sq. foot.

Francis Legislation, who was despatched to Penny’s Bay in late 2022, mentioned that whereas easy, the amenities have been satisfactory to fulfill an individual’s primary wants and would supply a gorgeous non permanent choice to these on public housing lists.

“If the federal government rents the models out for round HK$2,000 to HK$3,000 per 30 days [$254 to $382] and arranges a bus path to the closest practice station, I believe it might appeal to a number of candidates, even when it’s far off from the primary central enterprise district,” he instructed CNN.

Whereas among the camps have been constructed on land owned by native tycoons and loaned to the federal government, some argue that because the models are modular and comparatively simply dismantled they might be moved to extra everlasting areas – if the federal government have been so inclined.

A temporary isolation facility near to the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal in Hong Kong on April 6, 2022.

“We clearly have land in Hong Kong, we’ve a number of rural areas…however what we shouldn’t have land that’s available for residential or business improvement,” mentioned Ryan Ip, vice-president and co-head of analysis on the Our Hong Kong Basis suppose tank.

“The hot button is whether or not the federal government truly expedites its procedures.”

Others have extra inventive options, drawing inspiration from how among the models have been briefly repurposed throughout lulls within the pandemic.

At one level, among the models in Penny’s Bay have been used to carry a college entrance examination for secondary faculty college students who have been shut contacts of contaminated instances; at one other time, the camp hosted a small election polling station.

Hong Kong-based architect Marco Siu is a part of a bunch calling for the blocks at Penny’s Bay to be become a short lived well being and wellness heart, arguing that this may require solely a minimal redesign and provides authorities the choice of reopening it ought to one other outbreak occur.

Zimmerman, of Designing Hong Kong, mentioned the land subsequent to Disneyland might be used to develop the theme park or be repurposed into a brand new city.

Under Secretary for Security, Michael Cheuk, at the closing ceremony of the Penny's Bay Community Isolation Facility on March 1, 2023.

Whether or not the federal government will heed any of those options stays to be seen. It has thus far been tight-lipped on its intentions.

A spokesperson instructed CNN that, “Detailed evaluation and examine can be carried out with related authorities bureaux and departments. Future plans and preparations can be introduced after a choice is made.”

Nonetheless, a Improvement Bureau spokesperson added that the models at Penny’s Bay and Kai Tak have been “structurally designed for a life cycle of fifty years” and confirmed that they’re designed to be “dismantled, transported and reused in different areas.”

In a separate assertion, the Improvement Bureau mentioned the town was dedicated to a “regular and sustained” provide of land.

“To imagine a number one function in land provide, the federal government has dedicated itself to a strong land provide technique to fulfill demand and construct up the land reserve by way of a multi-pronged strategy, together with, for instance, the event of two strategic progress areas, specifically the brand new provide of over 3,000 hectares of developable land within the Northern Metropolis and the reclamation of 1,000 hectares off Kau Yi Chau (island); and the expedition of the tempo of city renewal.

“As introduced within the 2023-24 Price range, in respect of land for personal housing alone, we’ll safe land of a scale which almost doubles that of the earlier five-year interval for the manufacturing of at least 72,000 personal housing models within the coming 5 years, and make the land obtainable to the market by way of the annual Land Sale Packages and railway property developments.”

Nonetheless, anybody who watched the closing ceremony for Penny’s Bay earlier this month would have been disillusioned in the event that they have been hoping for a glimpse into what its future would possibly maintain.

As its gates closed, a band performed “Auld Lang Syne” and Michael Cheuk, the Undersecretary for Safety, positioned an enormous cut-out padlock on its bars.

“Penny’s Bay quarantine camp has completed its mission,” Cheuk instructed the gang.

Those self same phrases have been plastered on a banner hung throughout its shuttered gates.

Posted by : www.cnn.com


Halo, Saya adalah penulis artikel dengan judul Hong Kong asks: what to do with 40,000 empty Covid quarantine units in a housing shortage? yang dipublish pada March 15, 2023 di website Enchantress Magazine

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