Who is going to fill this city of the future?
(Photo credit: Chris Lusher)
Hong Kong 2030 Plus represents HKSAR’s developmental vision for a Hong Kong to and beyond 2030. Items such as territorial advancements through land reclamation, developing new central business districts, increasing housing developments, are addressed in order to create a “visionary, proactive, pragmatic and action-oriented approach” to growing concerns of land use, increasing populations, property price increases, and maintaining Hong Kong’s status quo as Asia’s World City. Here’s a question to Hong Kong 2030+: Can I afford Hong Kong?
Part of the HK2030+ discussion is retaining talent in a World City. This brings in a plethora of conversations across the board of politics and socio-economic factors such as living conditions, expected income, rental pricing, and job availability. It is true that Hong Kong’s unemployment rate has been steady and barely moving, averaging out between 2.9-3.4%. What isn’t emphasized, however, is the growing income disparity. Yonden Lhatoo, a senior editor of South China Morning Post, describes this unaddressed income inequality issue as “stuff that foments revolution”. After all, the richest 10% of the city make 29 times more than your average joe who is trying to make a living, paycheck to paycheck.
As income disparity looms towards dangerous levels, who can afford to live here? Hong Kong’s rental prices have increased a staggering 154 percent since 2007, making this city one of the most expensive cities to live in. Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey reported Hong Kong as the least affordable city to live in for middle-income households, while Sydney and Vancouver follow suit. Hong Kong was also reported to be the most expensive city to live in for expats, a supposed high income earning bracket that generally look for high-end apartments. To further paint a picture of this scenario, rentals for unfurnished 3-bedroom apartments in popular expat areas that are close to international schools average to HK$79,474 per month.
Middle-income areas such as Tseung Kwan O and North Point, average rental prices for 3 bedroom apartments range between HK$18,201 – HK$29,645 per month, or up to three quarters of an average income earner that has 10 years working experience. This scenario poses a threat to Hong Kong’s claim as a World City for a simple reason: who can afford to live here.
With income disparity and property prices on a constant rise, it is to no surprise that 4 out of 10 residents have expressed desires to emigrate outside of Hong Kong, while one in ten have made concrete plans to do so.
Understanding basic facts, I decided to answer my own question. Can I really afford to live in Hong Kong? To give you a brief rundown, I am a sales manager for a telecommunications company, earning an average of HK$20,000 – HK$30,000 per month depending on sales numbers and commissions. I live in Tseung Kwan O, renting an apartment that is somewhat subsidized by my parents. If I took on this apartment on my own, it would rent for as high as HK$25,000 per month, taking most of my income in a month. Therefore, would I elect to stay in Hong Kong? No. If I had a chance to go elsewhere, I would.
I asked a few other friends of mine who currently live with their parents as well. Brian Lau, an executive for Michael Page Recruiting, answered some of my queries about life as a local Hong Kong resident. His responses weren’t far from mine. He earns around HK$26,000-HK$29,000 a month, refuses to rent a flat for more than 50% of his salary, and would go elsewhere if given the chance.
Needless to say, Hong Kong’s 2030+ action plan is a part of the ever changing landscape of everything about Hong Kong. It is more than just income disparity and high rental prices, more than just assessing poverty income levels compared to medium income and high income households. However, if one of the items on that action plan is to retain talent, and allow sustainable living conditions for Hong Kong’s residents, it might not hurt to include more individual planning streams that would allow for a better quality of life to the individual level. It might allow Hong Kong’s youth and the Hong Kong people in general to want to live here, want to stay here, and build Hong Kong as Asia’s World City together.
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