This is the season of Advent for Christians in Hong Kong as they await the celebration of the birth of Jesus on Christmas next week. For most home buyers in Hong Kong, however, they are awaiting something less spiritual: lower and affordable housing prices—a wait that never seems to cease regardless of the season.
According to a global survey of the affordability of houses in more than 350 cities in January, Hong Kong was the least affordable community to buy a home in the world—a title it has maintained for the past six years. According to the survey, the price of an average flat in Hong Kong is 19 times the city’s gross annual median income, which is the highest ever recorded in the 11-year history of the survey. Demographia, which conducted the survey, regards a multiple of more than 5.1 as “severely unaffordable”; and for comparisons, Sydney, the second-ranked city in this year’s survey, had a multiple of 12.2.
In another local survey released last month of people between 18 and 34 years old, about 25 percent of those surveyed indicated that they do not plan to buy a home in their lifetimes because of high property prices and down payments. Of those who do intend to buy a home, 20 percent said they’ll have to work 25 years to be able to afford a home.
Most people in Hong Kong, however, do not need surveys to indicate how unaffordable the basic necessity of housing is in our city. They only need to consult the real estate listings. Last month, for instance, a home buyer or renter would find these prices for a flat of about 470 sq. ft. in a variety of areas of our city: HK$5.5 million or rent of HK$17,000 per month in Aberdeen, HK$9.9 million or rent of HK$17,000 per month in Yau Ma Tei and HK$4.5 million or rent of HK$12,000 per month in Yuen Long.
These property prices though are only relevant to people who can dream about buying a home. What about the approximately 200,000 people who pay to live in so-called coffin cubicles, caged homes or subdivided flats? And then there are the homeless whose numbers were estimated at a record of more than 1,600 people last year and the 250 so-called McRefugees who sleep in 24-hour fast food restaurants. For them, they cannot afford the city’s high rents, and they refuse to live in small, squalid flats.
What about public housing though?
If one can be patient and wait an average of four-and-a-half years, like more than 280,000 people currently on the waiting list, public housing is an option.
While the Hong Kong government has made attempts in the past few years to lower housing prices, the fact is that housing prices remain stubbornly high and out of reach for far too many people in our community.
Lost in the debate about our high housing prices is that housing is a right, not just a place to live nor an investment. Moreover, enjoying this right means housing that is adequate and affordable in which one can live in dignity. Until the right to housing becomes a reality for everyone, there is no one home in Asia’s World City.
Bruce Van Voorhis serves as missionary with the Asia and Pacific Alliance of YMCA’s in Hong Kong. His appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Churches Wider Mission, and your special gifts.