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Exhibition tells the development of public housing

The public will have the chance to review the development of public housing over the past 50 years, through a display of historical pictures, reconstruction of resettlement buildings and household settings, at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum starting tomorrow (June 2) until October 11.

Jointly presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) and the Hong Kong Housing Authority (HA), the "Memories of Home - 50 Years of Public Housing in Hong Kong" exhibition provides a fascinating insight into the communal lifestyles of the estates by the stories of individuals who have lived in different generations of public housing.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the exhibition today (June 1), HA chairman Mr Michael Suen Ming-yeung said this year marked the 50th anniversary of Hong Kong's public housing development.

Mr Suen said: "To commemorate this important event, HA has organised a series of activities, including this exhibition jointly presented with LCSD. Members of the public can take this opportunity to get a glimpse of life in the early years of public housing estates as well as the challenges that the public housing programmme has gone through and the achievements it has made.

"Following the establishment of the public housing programme, the living environment and living standard of public housing have been greatly improved. In the past 50 years, the policies on public housing have changed over time to meet the changing needs and expectation of the public. Resettlement blocks without kitchen, bathroom, and balcony facilities in the 1950s and 1960s have been replaced by self-contained public estates with comprehensive facilities. At this exhibition, visitors can walk through all the major developments of the public housing programme, and see how they have contributed to building a stable and progressive society," Mr Suen said.

The Deputy Director (Culture) of Leisure and Cultural Services, Miss Choi Suk-kuen, said at the opening ceremony that the exhibition also featured interviews with fire victims of Shek Kip Mei who recalled how they escaped from the fire as well as professionals who shared what they had gone through during their days in public housing. She said their stories were, in fact, the vivid history of Hong Kong.

In Hong Kong's early years as a trading port, housing was concentrated along the coastlines of the two sides of Victoria Harbour. The influx of immigrants after the World War II led to an upsurge in demand for housing, and people began to crowd into squatter areas that grew up on the slopes of the surrounding hills.

On Christmas Day, 1953, a massive fire swept the Shek Kip Mei squatter area and made 53,000 people homeless overnight. This prompted the Government to get directly involved in housing production.

Two months after the fire, the Public Works Department completed the first two-storey bungalow building to house the victims. These buildings, known as "Bowring Bungalows", were named after the then Director of Public Works.

Apart from constructing resettlement buildings, the Government also subsidised the Hong Kong Housing Society, a voluntary organisation, to develop rental estates. In addition, the semi-independent Hong Kong Housing Authority was set up in 1954 to develop low-cost housing that provided a better living environment.

Although the population of various resettlement estates reached 500,000 in 1960s, more than 600,000 people still lived in squatter huts. "Review of Policies for Squatter Control, Resettlement and Government Low-cost Housing" was then released in 1964. The White Paper spelt out the acceleration of the construction of resettlement and low-cost housing to meet the huge demand.

In 1971, Sir Murray MacLehose assumed the governorship of Hong Kong. He was particularly concerned about the housing problem. In 1972, the biggest 10-year Housing Programme for the development of public housing was announced. The Programme aimed to provide flats with a full range of facilities and a decent living environment for 1.8 million Hong Kong citizens from 1973 to 1982; to restructure the existing housing organisation by setting up the new HA and the amalgamation of the Resettlement Department and Housing Division of the Urban Services Department into the Housing Department; to improve and enhance the quality of public housing, and relive the overcrowded conditions; and to seek sites for the construction of public housing outside the urban area, which led to the new town development in Hong Kong.

Due to the shortage of land available for development in urban and suburban areas, the Government had to find suitable sites for constructing of public housing estates in remote areas. The concept of town planning had to be incorporated into their design, and to cater for the everyday social and recreational needs of residents as well as the housing needs. Completed in 1971, Wah Fu Estate was the first public housing estate to incorporate this concept. The self-contained Wah Fu Estate laid the foundations for the future development of new towns.

Tsuen Wan, Sha Tin and Tuen Mun were the first three areas chosen for the development of new towns under the 10-year Housing Programme. In the 1980s, Tai Po, Yuen Long, Fanling and Sheung Shui successively became second-generation new towns. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Government developed three more new towns, Tin Shui Wai, Tseung Kwan O and Tung Chung. Overall, the development of new towns has significantly influenced the distribution of Hong Kong's population. It dispersed effectively the population from urban areas to districts throughout the New Territories. The construction of public housing estates has played a leading role in this aspect.

With Hong Kong's rapid economic growth, many people began to make a stable living and accumulate savings. To help residents buy their own flats, the HA launched the sale of the first batch of Home Ownership Scheme flats (HOS) in 1978. As property prices fell drastically in recent years, HOS flats seemed to lose their attractiveness. In 2003, the Government announced the indefinite cessation of the sale and production of HOS flats.

Located at 1 Man Lam Road in Shatin, the Heritage Museum opens from 10am to 6pm from Monday to Saturday, and from 10am to 7pm on Sundays and public holidays. It is closed on Tuesdays (except public holidays). Admission is $10, with a half-price concession for senior citizens aged 60 or above, people with disabilities and full-time students. Admission is free on Wednesdays.

A free shuttle bus operates between the Shatin KCR Station and the Heritage Museum from 1pm to 6pm on Saturdays and from 1pm to 7pm on Sundays and public holidays.

For enquiries, call 2180 8188. For details of the exhibition, visit the Heritage Museum's website at .

Ends/Tuesday, June 1, 2004
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