I would have replied sooner to the letter from Evelyn Wong in your issue of May 18. hut I am afraid 1 have only just seen it.
Ms Wong speaks of the plight of the Yaumatei boat-dwellers — people living in Hong Kong. not refugees arriving from Vietnam. She does not explain that many of them have already been rehoused on land: nor does she appear to recognise the other, equally pressing, claims on public housing in Hong Kong. Before the recent influx of immigrants From China nad refugees front Vietnam it was estimated that about one million Hong Kong residents were inadequately housed.
These figures must be seen against the background of the Hong Kong Government's public housing record and in relation to the number of people living in unsatisfacotry conditions on land. Since 1960. the Hong Kong Government has housed over 1.6 million people, and it plans to house hair that number again in the next five years.
In the meantime, demand outstrips supply because of substantial increases in population (3.1 million in 1960 and now over 4.7 million) caused by, among other things, the large number of immigrants arriving in Hong Kong. As a result, there is a waiting list of over 141,000 applicants for public housing.
In 1960, it was estimated that there were 7,800 squatter boats in Hong Kong, occupied by about 48,000 people, Since then, over K0,C00 boat' dwellers have been rehoused. But, despite this, in 1978 there were still about 25,000 people living in squatter boats.
The difficulty has been that as soon as boat-dwellers are resettled on land they are replaced by others. either immigrants from China who are accustomed to living on water, or land-dwellers who resort to boats as it cheap form of accommodation. There are also a certain number who have opted to continue living on boats while being employed on land. Given that the demand for public housing exceeds the supply, the system of waiting lists ensures that all claims for public housing are treated equally and fairly and that there is a minimum of queue-jumping. Priority is, however given to people who are rendered homeless as a result of fire, natural disaster or other such causes.
Boat-dwellers are eligible to apply tor public housing in the normal way. No special priority can be given to them over the equally valid claims of applicants living on land. However, if a boat becomes Uninhabitable, its occupants are immediately given temporary accommodation. pending permanent rehousing.
Your readers will doubtless be aware that Hong Kong is simultaneously grappling with the ,problem of Vietnamese refugees and immigration from China. So far this year, 45,000 refugees have arrived from Vietnam. in the same time, nearly 50,000 legal immigrants and an estimated 90,000 illegal immigrants have arrived from China.
Hong Kong regards the problem of Vietnamese refugees as one that should be shared by the international community, but it expects no help from anyone over the problem of absorbing immigrants from China. If they continue to arrive at the present rate, llong Kong's population will grow from this source alone by about a quarter of a million this year. On that basis, it would need to build one new town every two years for half a million people. An undertaking on this scale will tax even Hong Kong's ingenuity.
U. C'. Bray Commissioner, Hong Kong Government Office 6 Grafton Street, 1.ondon. WI.