An open letter to Habitat for Humanity condemning the inclusion of Urban Renewal Authority in The Asia-Pacific Housing Forum 2015
We are a group of volunteers and residents who are concerned about urban redevelopment in Hong Kong. We want to express our discontent to the organization Habitat for Humanity for including Urban Renewal Authority (URA), which is notorious for destroying people’s home during redevelopment, as one of the speakers in the section of “Bringing social innovation to housing for the creation of sustainable, thriving and resilient cities” in The Asia-Pacific Housing Forum.
URA: leading in Gentrification and the destruction of grassroots’ livelihood.
Urban Renewal Authority, despite being a public organization, have been operating as a profit-driven business, ignoring its social responsibility and disregarding its promise of putting people as first priority during redevelopment. We are particularly critical to URA’s model of urban redevelopment, in which old buildings that housed many of the poorest families in Hong Kong are replaced exclusively with lavish and high-priced apartments.
These projects failed to forge sustainable and livable neighborhoods for communities with diverse cultural, social and economic backgrounds. Because URA have never built any public housing for grassroots, they have merely fueled a highly speculative and lucrative housing market, pushed up rents and costs of living in the area, which exacerbated the livelihood of marginalized residents in old districts.
There is hardly any sustainable planning and fair arrangement for the relocation of residents in the redevelopment zones of URA. Currently, URA rely on Housing Authority for arranging public housing flats for relocation. Yet, no redeveloped lands were transferred to Housing Authority for building public housing. Moreover, URA have set up numerous unreasonable requirements in their relocation arrangement, and with which many residents are excluded from proper relocation, let alone the chance of being relocated to the same area. Those who are not assigned a house will have to endure skyrocketing rent, displacement and loss of social network while URA and its partnering land developers could extract enormous profit from the process. It is evident that URA have no contribution to solving the housing crisis of Grassroots in Hong Kong, instead, they boost prices of urban property up to an unaffordable extent.
URA: a powerful institution ignoring its social responsibility
Urban Renewal Authority enjoys many forms of governmental power including one that can forcefully retrieve any land through land resumption ordinance. However, URA has a record of selling off public resource to private developers. In almost every redevelopment project, URA had worked with private developers and build lavish and high-priced flats and then share the profits. There are many examples of such collaboration, such as Heya projects in Sham Shui Po and The Avenue on Lee Tung Street, Wan Chai. Contrastingly, URA have neither accept to cooperate with local residents to discuss a plan that could truly improve residents’ living standard and maintain community network, nor accept a bottom-up planning proposition of such kind from the community, such as The Dumbbell proposition from H15 urban redevelopment concern group, The Staying proposition from K20-23 urban redevelopment concern group, the Sham Shui Po residents’ autonomous planning proposition from Shunling road urban redevelopment concern groups and the more recently Nga Tsin Wai people’s planning proposition.
Current president of URA So Hing-woh vowed to run URA as a private developer and would cooperate further with other private developers when he first resumed office. We believe that URA is the murderer of local characteristics, social networks and community economy. Villagers from historical Nga Tsin Wai village, for example, have seen numerous times URA’s broke its promises. Recently there have been many cases of arson or criminal damage in the village without any reasons, threatening villagers’ safety. There is no protection offered by URA for villagers, shows that URA is violating its “people’s first” principle.
What Habitat for Humanity should do:
admit your mistake and condemn Urban Renewal Authority
One could easily be sceptical about the credibility of Habitat of Humanity, because on one hand they claim they have the vision of having a world where everyone has a decent place to live in and the conviction that safe and affordable housing provides a path out of poverty. However, on the other hand, they give URA the opportunity to promote themselves in front of the international community, disregarding their role in the continuation of urban poverty through urban gentrification and its relentless and in-humanistic model of urban redevelopment. It makes us wonder if URA propaganda are influential enough to deceive everyone or Habitat for Humanity is as equally corrupted as URA.
Nonetheless, we oppose all kind of solutions that seeing housing ladder as the way to solve housing problem. we believe that housing is basic human right. Different communities and classes should enjoy the freedom of choosing their form of housing: there should not be any proposition that push everyone into the housing market.
If Habitat of Humanity is sincere to its vision, we believe they should correct their mistake of inviting URA to the forum, and denounce URA for what they have done to the residents in Hong Kong old districts. We also urge the organizers and participants of this forum to consider whether a discussion requiring participants to pay $1950 to $3590 for their attendance and only the present of “leaders” from government, civil society and corporations but not the grassroots are required, could truly and thoroughly understand the need and idea of those who are in need of housing and have repeatedly lost their right to housing to governments and corporations who are now speaking for a world where everyone has a decent place to live). If the answer is no, perhaps they should consider suspending this event.
old district autonomy advancement group
3, Sep 2015