Hong Kong to establish minimum standards for subdivided flats, but timeline to phase them out yet to be set: housing chief

Hong Kong’s housing minister has said authorities will target subdivided flats in deplorable condition by establishing minimum standards, but a timeline to phase them out completely has not been set yet.

Secretary for Housing Winnie Ho Wing-yin revealed the plan a day after the first meeting of a new government task force for tackling the issue of subdivided homes.

“We are setting a standard, just like an exam,” she told a radio programme on Saturday.

“Some will pass and some will fail, but those with marginal issues will be given time to fix their problems. The targets are homes in deplorable condition … like those with washrooms without walls, where you have to sleep next to the toilet bowl. Such cases will absolutely fail.”

Secretary for Housing Winnie Ho says authorities will set minimum standards for subdivided flats. Photo: Edmond So

Ceiling height and ventilation were among the factors authorities would take into account when setting the standards, she added.

The task force is a new initiative announced in this year’s policy address on October 25.

At least 220,000 people in the city live in subdivided flats – a living area where a residential unit is divided into tiny cubicles that often pose hygiene and fire safety hazards.

‘I want to escape’: we have no choice, say Hongkongers in subdivided flats

Chaired by Deputy Financial Secretary Michael Wong Wai-lun, the cross-departmental task force will define minimum standards for subdivided flats and suggest measures to eradicate substandard ones within 10 months.

The group involves the bureaus of development, home and youth affairs, environment and welfare. During its first meeting, members discussed enforcement and regulation issues, overcharging for water and electricity, and transitional and follow-up arrangements, among others topics, the government said on Friday.

Ho said transitional flats and “light public housing” would be short-term solutions to rehouse tenants who used to live in the substandard “shoebox” homes.

Authorities set up a new task force to tackle the issue of subdivided housing in the city. Photo: Dickson Lee

“Authorities do not want to directly use public rental flats as a solution to the problem of shoebox homes … because it is part of a broader policy to address various needs in society, for example, to encourage childbirth,” she said, adding that doing so would also create more demand for subdivided flats.

Ho said the government would consider administrative means to enforce the new rules and review whether the current ordinances sufficed.

Hong Kong to open first ‘community living room’ for subdivided flat residents

Asked whether authorities had a timetable to phase out subdivided flats in deplorable condition, Ho stopped short of providing a clear answer.

“The timetable should correspond with the supply of housing, which is quite tight in the first five years,” she said, pointing to the 10-year housing strategy starting from 2024. “We need to rely on the surge of supply in the next five years and the public rental flats will already help a lot. The task force will also look into this issue.”

Ho added that authorities might require all owners of subdivided flats to register their homes to prevent the return of substandard ones.

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