Every so often in Hong Kong, you’ll come across a protest banner like this one, hanging from the window of a decrepit apartment and bearing a message usually related to rents. In this case, tenants in a building near the Central street market are angry that their landlord wants to raise their rent three-fold.
Rents in Hong Kong are expensive, but not quite as outrageous as they’re made out to be — you can easily find a nice apartment in a central area for no more than what you’d pay for an equivalent place in Toronto, let alone London or New York. But what makes things tricky is that rents in Hong Kong are completely unregulated: if your lease is up and your landlord decides to triple your rent, your choice is to either pay up, move out or, in the case of these residents of Central, mount a collective protest.
The only reason this system hasn’t resulted in rampant homelessness is because nearly half of all Hong Kong residents live in some form of public housing. The government here has done an remarkably good job of providing relatively high-quality, affordable homes to those who need them. This becomes less admirable, however, when you realize that the government is largely responsible for perennially high property values. Because the government owns virtually all of the land in Hong Kong, it wields enormous influence over property values: in order to keep prices high, it selectively leases land to a small group of property developers.
It’s a bit alarming to live in a place whose entire political and economic structure rests on something so inequitable. But how to change it when that change would require a complete upheaval of the current system?
Tags: Exploring the City, Hong Kong, Protest, Signs