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Tai Hang Sai Estate: elderly’s struggle under redevelopment

Today, Pun Git-fong, 90, doesn't take a nap with the TV on like usual. Instead, on this cloudy afternoon, she puts on her old blouse, closes the door and starts an arduous five-minute journey down the stairs from the fifth floor to the ground floor. Her neighbours are waiting for her.

They are about to rally.

Tam Kwok-kiu reminds residents in a rally to demand communication with the owner HKHCL and assistance from the government.

More than 30 residents of Tai Hang Sai Estate, Hong Kong's last private housing estate for low-income families, are protesting a redevelopment plan that has been in the works for more than six years. The residents, many of whom have lived here for decades, say both the developer and the government are ignoring their needs and failing to communicate transparently. 

Residents want to be given a place to live during the redevelopment, which is expected to last five years. Currently, they’ve been told they need to find their own housing.

The crowd, mostly seniors, chants: "One house for one house; relocation needs common agreement. We only want to enjoy the old age; we don't want to drift from place to place."

"Don't toss about the elderly; government helps placement,” they shouted.

Established in 1965, Tai Hang Sai Estate offered shelter to tenants who lost their homes during the 1953 Christmas day fire in  Shek Kip Mei. The fire, which destroyed the entire estate and caused 3 deaths and 51 injured, brought the issue of safe public housing policy to light. 

Not qualified as government properties, the estate’s public areas lack proper maintenance. The broken shell leaves cables exposed in air.
 Residents put rat traps in corridors.

However, Tai Hang Sai Estate is not qualified as one. The British Hong Kong government offered a discount to developer Hong Kong Housing Corporation Limited (HKHCL) to buy the land for estate construction in 1961, which classified the site into private property. 

"Either Hong Kong Housing Authority or any other Hong Kong authorities could manage the estate," says 64-year-old Tam Kwok-kiu, the former District Councilor of the region. 

"If it's a public house, the government cannot say no to help the old to get another one," says 39-year-old Li Ting-fung, a District Councilor from Sham Shui Po, "the current situation is asking tenants to get houses by themselves, which is very hard for the old ones." 

An old resident holds a board that says “one house for one house, replacement needs common agreement.”

The Executive Council approved the reestablishment project of the estate owner Hong Kong Housing Corporation Limited on the condition that the company "will provide proper rehousing arrangements for existing tenants," according to the 2021 Policy Address.  

The plan proposes to provide about 1,300 units for the original tenants to move back and 2,000 units as Starter Homes for selling purposes. During the redevelopment period, HKHCL agrees to offer a subsidy that equals a five-year market rental price to each affected resident, which is about HK$11,6000 per family. 

"I could barely move anything downstairs. Not to mention no one would rent a house to me at such an old age," says Pun, who has been living here for 56 years, 

Sixty-three percent of the residents were above 45, and 32% were above 65 years old, according to the Census of Sham Shui Po District Council ten years ago.

"Most of the residents are above 60 years old now. The property owners are unwilling to rent houses to them, worrying they might pass away during the contract," says Au-yoeng Git-zan, commissioner of Residents' Right Concern Group of Tai Hang Sai Estate.  

Au-yoeng says although some may manage to find rental houses, landlords would very likely drive them out after a year contract is expired, by which the tenant must find another place to live. 

"If I have to move around like that, I'd rather go to heaven," says Pun. 

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor mentioned the Tai Hang Sai Estate in her policy address three years in a row since the owner HKHCL initiated the redevelopment program in 2016, while the agreement has never been reached between the residents and the company.

"The company didn't discuss with any of the tenants before it proposed the plan," says Wong Bik-gyun, the president of Residents' Right Concern Group of Tai Hang Sai Estate. Wong says the residents demanded to meet the company face-to-face, but HKHCL replied through written letters. 

"The plan in 2016 was delayed for lacking consensus on settlement of people," says Tam, "the relocation by the old residents themselves is very difficult. They need the hand of the government." 

Tam says the government should provide public houses to residents as “what they did 60 years ago” by relocating the residents that lose homes for the fire.

When establishing the estate in the 1960s, the British Hong Kong government assisted the residents affected by the fire to relocate, and Pun was one of them. She says the former government relocated her to a house in Chuk Un before moving into this low-price rental house in 1965.

"I just want the government to give me a house to live in," she says.

"My toilet ceiling collapsed on the first day of Chinese New Year," says Au-yoeng, who has lived in the estate for 30 years. "Some public areas have been 20 years without maintenance."

"No lift, low sanitary conditions, and the seniors are less capable of moving freely," says Tam, "reestablishment is in desperate need without a doubt."

Residents need to climb up stairs as the buildings established in 1965 do not have lifts. which causes inconvenience to the old. Each building has only eight floors.

Pun says goodbye to her neighbours known for decades. She puts down the banner and walks back up the stairs to her home. She pauses at each floor and takes a deep breath. 

"I’m old. I don’t know how much time is left," says Pun, "For years, we old people demand the same thing…we are exhausted." 

"But I will keep fighting,” she said.


《The Young Reporter》

The Young Reporter (TYR) started as a newspaper in 1969. Today, it is published across multiple media platforms and updated constantly to bring the latest news and analyses to its readers.


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