The housing crunch

Post Date: Jan 27th, 2011 | Categories: Advocacy | COMMENT

It is certain the lot of Hong Kong citizen is unnecessarily hard and the government is doing little to alleviate it. Our society is marked by egregious injustices and a shocking contrast between extremes of wealth and poverty. The Working Class, whose economic status is marginal at best, finds itself at the mercy of corporations and, at a sudden emergency (unemployment, rent rise, sickness) liable to indebtedness and eviction. This harsh system, is made harsher by the greed of landlords who take unmerciful advantage of the poor in order to amass more wealth, even resorting to dodgy practices like bogus meters, midnight harassment and cutting utilities. It is our experience that in the end, the poor have no redress! They are often ground down into misery before the careless pursuit of luxury which destroys Hong Kong’s character. The helpless are swept aside like leaves in the wind of indifference. How can society make progress until this dissonance is addressed?

We could share dozens of frustrating experiences, that reflect these ISS clients’ plight (edited email): “These two clients are living in Tokwawan and are disturbed frequently by the landlord who cuts the electricity almost every month. In fact, the clients signed the tenancy agreement with the landlord with the condition the rent includes electricity, but the landlord denied the agreement and keeps asking for money! Unfortunately, the electricity has been cut again, this time by the Electricity Company and will not be connected any time soon. They now have to suffer a hard time eating uncooked stale food, taking cool shower and living in the dark at night time. They are suffering great stress in various aspects of their daily life. These clients desperately need to move out from the current place where there is no electricity. Recently, rounds of room searching had been done, but failed to find a place without deposit and agency commission, which the clients can’t afford to pay.  After thorough observation and assessment, we believe that no one in their community and other possible NGOs could offer such assistance to them, but Vision First.”

Again and again we hear the distressed complaints of our members who are either unable to afford massive rent hikes, or unable to find a 1000 HKD room (the rent assistance ISS pays directly to owners) without deposit requirement. We know the greatest folly today is outrageous rent increase, which apparently will be more severe after Chinese New Year. If all residence are feeling the pinch, what is happening to the poorest of the poor? We have a close collaboration with a homeless association in Kowloon, whose 1300 membership is steadily rising as more individuals crash out of the private rental market, while the government schemes have a three year waiting list. That’s for citizens with ID Cards, but what is happening to asylum-seekers and refugees who don’t qualify for government/NGO assistance? This week we visited Srilankan, Bangladeshi and African communities in the New Territory, who are feeling the pinch even in shantytowns, where rapacious landlords milk tenants for all they’re worth. When you live in a wooden/metal hut costing more than 1000$ and are forced to pay exorbitant (dishonest?) utility bills, how can you survive without work? Our members are cornered by despair: on one front they have minimum survival COST, yet on the other they risk jail for working? What would you do? Vision First had to quickly house a young lady, whose friends were egging her into prostitution, definitely the oldest solution to financial despair. This morning we confirmed our 18th HOME SHELTER, to accommodate four youngsters who absolutely must be kept off the streets. Despite being UNHCR refugees, two of them had nowhere else to turn for their right to be housed in a simple, clean and safe home. Within hours we turned down another request, just because young single males are not as vulnerable as families and adolescents, aware another will join the ranks of the homeless sleeping in cold parks tonight. Speaking of parks, take a look at the Gold Fish pictured below: it was caught by members hungry enough to overlook the culinary disdain for this species!

Advising members; blankets donation; room for two; community kitchen; illegal huts; Gold Fish dinner?