Our first day in Hong Kong included a visit to the Hong Kong Public Housing Authority (PHA) headquarters, followed by a tour of one of their housing estates. 30-40% of the population lives in public housing, there is a 2-3 year wait-list for units, and there are 150 housing estates in Hong Kong, making the PHA the largest developer in the region.
Most of the new developments are a collection of 40-story towers, with approximately 800 units per tower. During our estate tour, we visited an empty unit. I would guess the unit was about 500 square feet, and it was designed for a family of four. The efficiency of living space was incredible, and made me feel like my one-bedroom urban Seattle condo was overly spacious!
The small living spaces are no doubt an effect of a large population, limited land supply, and cultural norms. It is amazing to think how adaptable humans are to their environment, though. How many 4-person families do you know that can harmoniously live in a 500 SF apartment unit? The true meaning of community is not lost on the people of Hong Kong.
The PHA has a program called “Harmonies in Families”, which helps families to live close together in the same housing development, so that they may take care of each other and retain strong familial connections. The PHA designs units that allow elderly parents to live next to their children and their families, and wait-list priority is given to families looking to relocate to be close together.
The sense of community expands outside the nuclear family as well. PHA designs many community spaces in their developments. PHA’s Deputy Director of Housing described these places as “living rooms outside of the home”, where people can sit and chat and visit with their neighbors. There are also playgrounds, outdoor exercise space specifically designed for the elderly, and many community plazas. During our visit to Ching Ho estate, a PHA development with 7,162 units and 20,658 people, the community spaces were vibrant and exhilarating, full of family and friends enjoying their shared home.
I was most impressed, however, with PHA’s dedication to community. PHA has been retrofitting a lot of their older buildings to comply with safety standards and to perform energy and maintenance upgrades. When relocating tenants during the retrofitting process, the PHA takes extreme care to keep the community together. Instead of dispersing tenants to vacant spaces throughout their developments, the PHA will do whatever is necessary to keep a community together throughout the interim moving process. Sometimes, this means building a new building, moving all of the tenants out of the old building and into the new building, performing the building upgrades, and then moving the community back into the building. They will do this for each tower in the complex, which means that retrofits and upgrades can take up to 20 years for one estate. PHA’s dedication to keeping communities together is impressive, and highlights the communal values of the Hong Kong culture, which are no doubt necessary in such dense living environments.