Housing need in Hong Kong

Housing in need in Hong Kong

Hong Kong has ranked as the most expensive property market in the world for the past 13 years, according to the 19th Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey: 2022. The housing ecosystem in Hong Kong is complex, with systemic inequities affecting both the formal and informal housing sectors. Housing has become the most prominent social issue in the city, with long waiting lists for public housing and over 200,000 people turning to informal, illegal and substandard alternatives such as caged homes, subdivided units and urban slums.

Public housing

Nearly half of the population in Hong Kong lives in some form of public housing. According to the Housing Authority as of December 2022, the average waiting time for public housing was 5.5 years, with over 229,900 people on the waiting list.


At the very beginning public housing was developed simply to provide shelter for victims of fire or natural disasters and families who had lost their homes due to clearance. In the 1950s, flats were merely cubicles with no amenities and a flat for a family of five at that time covered only 11 square metres. A majority of the public housing blocks built in the 1960s provided a toilet inside each flat and lift access to every third floor. With increasing demand for public housing in the 1970s, buildings became taller and their design more diverse. Flats were built with a private balcony / kitchen and a toilet, and an air conditioner vent was also provided in each flat. By the 1990s buildings came with standard units of various sizes to cater for different households, and with windows in every room to let in more daylight and air.

Universal design 

In recent years, the Housing Authority has been moving towards non-standard building designs to optimise the use of a site’s unique location and features to meet residents’ needs and applying Universal Design principles to ensure the estate facilities cater to the needs of residents of all ages and different physical abilities.

However, the majority of elderly people currently living in public housing are residing in the older housing estates, without the benefit of Universal Design. Their flats are typically less than 40 square metres in size and they have often lived in the same apartment for many years. Without proper maintenance, the living conditions quickly become substandard and hoarding can create unsanitary living conditions which can affect personal hygiene, cooking, and be a fire hazard. Access to and manoeuvrability within these flats can be difficult for wheelchair users and residents with low-mobility and there is increased risk of fall due to uneven/broken flooring, clutter, lack of adequate storage etc.