South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion
Yonden Lhatoo despairs at the prospect of property developers selling ever-tinier homes to maximise profits at a cost to humanity
“I’m down so low … I declare I’m lookin’ up at down.” Blues musician Big Bill Broonzy sang these famous words in a summation of the sense of hopelessness prevalent during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Fast forward to the present, and British comedian John Oliver captures the essence of sinking to new lows in his own irreverent style. “Let me just remind you that last Sunday, I told you if you looked above the clouds, you would see rock bottom. But if you look up there now … you will see, right up in the distance, where we were this time last week. Because since then, we have sunk so low, we are breaking through the earth’s crust, where drowning in boiling magma will come as sweet, sweet relief.”
Oliver was talking about the depths to which the US presidential race has sunk, but allow me to borrow his wicked words to illustrate what’s happening to Hong Kong’s property market.
Emperor International Holdings has entered the hall of shame for heartless developers putting profit before people, with plans to build the tiniest homes in the city. With these 61.4 sq ft shoeboxes being mismarketed as homes for humans, can we sink any lower in dehumanising the population of one of the most prosperous cities in the world?
Even Stanley Prison offers more living space for criminals, with the standard jail cell measuring a relatively luxurious 80.7 sq ft.
The only thing left now is to put us all in coffins and be done with it.
And since this is Hong Kong, after all, I wouldn’t put it past our developers. You only have to look at the price-gouging business of running columbariums, where Hongkongers are forced to store the ashes of the deceased in 1 sq ft wall niches.
People get emotional about killer whales in captivity, and how confining them in their marine park tanks is the equivalent of keeping a human in a bath tub all his or her life. Boredom, depression and frustration lead to self-harm and aggression.
Hello? That ring a bell, humans in Hong Kong?
Far more informed and astute commentators than myself have linked the social problems in our city, especially the growing tendency among youth to lash out at the establishment, to housing. It’s just so basic.
When – not if – we have the next iteration of the Mong Kok riot, let’s not ask “why” or “how” any more. Our Ides of March is there for all to see.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. There is enough land and wealth in Hong Kong to house every citizen in relative comfort and dignity. What there is an acute dearth of is the guts, political will and generosity to achieve it.
And yet you heard development minister Paul Chan Mo-po: “The government does not have a magic wand to create land out of nothing.”
Nobody is expecting you to wave any magic wand, Professor Dumbledore. You may be one of our harder-working ministers, but it’s time we all snap out of our lotos-eating reverie and get cracking on the obvious solutions.
For a start, minister, do something about developers’ ample land banks and shameful practice of hoarding empty flats to keep property prices artificially inflated and above the reach of the average Hongkonger.
Perhaps we should begin a public database of the wealthiest and most powerful people in this city, both in the private and public sectors, to give everyone else an idea how much room they have to swing the proverbial cat in. Naming and shaming ought to be a good start, privacy be damned.
I can see the orcas bursting out of their tanks already in outrage.
Yonden Lhatoo is a senior editor at the Post