Hong Kong : World Wide Social Housing Possibilities From An Inspired Past

A view of Hong Kong high rises from high above them sea in background.
Victoria Peak photo by David Cobbin is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
View from Victoria Peak, Hong Kong.

Needs must. The needs for affordable housing worldwide has triggered a world of different results, much of it inspired by capitalist free enterprise necessity, not as an oft-derided ‘entitlement’ for ‘undeserving poor,’ a frequently convenient myth launched by penny-pinching government administrators.

For example, the need for production during the Second World War in the USA triggered the construction of affordable housing near war production factories.

Following that war, there was a pressing need for affordable housing in Europe, including the USSR. Countries on both sides of the Iron Curtain thrived as they rebuilt housing destroyed by the war.

The world today looks with awe and reverence at the consequence of Singapore’s housing emphasis, after it gained independence from Malaysia in 1965. This tiny city-state decided to make social (i.e. government supported) housing a fundamental entitlement for all citizens, not only as renters, but serving to all the real possibility of home ownership. Over the years it has meant that some 80% of its population lives in homes built as social housing. Many have, on the strength of their individual housing ownership alone, become millionaires.

With affordable housing demonstrably an important foundation of free-enterprise economies, there is some value in exploring the history of the British territory of Hong Kong. For many years it was the Far East’s biggest free-enterprise success story, albeit now returned to China in 1997 at the expiry of a 100 year lease.

There is intriguing history to be told here. Hong Kong’s current social housing stock shelters some 50% of its 7.4 million inhabitants and assists its workers to survive and prosper financially in what is arguably the world’s most expensive city.

The trigger for Hong Kong’s social housing construction boom was not so much war as a single shantytown fire on Christmas Day 1953, which left 53,000 people homeless.

A new illustrated book traces the evolution of the social housing development that followed in Hong Kong, which is celebrated for its uniquely colourful high rise housing, among other things.

Cash-strapped, the Hong Kong administration developed an ambitious plan, but lacked the will or the resources to manage a building program itself. Instead, territory administrators contracted with a range of independent architects. The result is a rich variety of building styles and purposes, constructed between the 1950’s and the 1980’s. Read and view more of this Hong Kong success story at dwell: An Up-Close Look at Hong Kong’s Famous Public Housing Complexes