New value created by transforming isolation facilities into youth dorms

In pace with the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government’s decision to revoke issuing isolation orders to COVID-19-diagnosed people, a total of eight isolation facilities that were led and built by the Development Bureau have consummated their historic mission. A portion of the quarantine center at the Kai Tak area is being considered to transmute into a youth hostel, according to reports. In fact, Secretary for Housing Winnie Ho Wing-yin has stressed in recent interviews that the future use of the city’s isolation facilities is being carefully contemplated. “It lies with a wide array of possibilities,” she said.

From a technical viewpoint, some of the isolation facilities can be readily transformed into youth hostels or light public housing projects, given that each unit is equipped with an individual bathroom. Any transformation of these isolation facilities will undoubtedly help meet young people’s housing needs as well as public expectations.

The SAR government announced the implementation of the Youth Hostel Scheme (YHS) in 2011. But most of the projects have been delayed for a long time, with construction work still in progress. The Youth Hostel Scheme was updated in last year’s Policy Address with a new target of providing about 3,000 additional places for young people within five years. The proposed increase in supply will be in the form of subsidizing NGOs to rent suitable hotels and guesthouses for use as youth hostels. This leads to the question of how many of them are able to provide the public open space required by the government. The cost of renovation for meeting the minimum spacing requirement is one of the many factors to be considered. The resumption of normal cross-border travel between the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong will bring loads of visitors to the city. How attractive the conversion of isolation facilities into youth hostels is another factor to be considered amid increasing numbers of tourists. Organizations to be involved shall run their operations on self-financing basis. Results of the youth dormitory conversion plan will take time to measure and evaluate.

Should those quarantine facilities be eventually transformed into youth dormitories, many young people’s need for accommodation will be met. Take the Kai Tak Quarantine Centre, for example. It consists of several four-story building blocks with a total of 2,700 units. Each 193-square-foot (17.9-square-meter) unit already provides a single bed, individual lavatory, television, air conditioner, steam cooker and other appliances. But simple modifications are needed to comply with fire-safety standards, and electric meters need to be installed. These youth hostels can be made ready within months. With its prime location close to the city center and good public transportation networks, the Kai Tak youth hostel will be attractive to many young people. By converting the Kai Tak Quarantine Centre into a youth hostel, the government would move a step closer to achieving its goal of increasing the housing supply for young people.

The creation of youth hostels can be only a transitional measure to alleviate urgent housing needs. Permanent housing needs to be provided for young people who live in youth hostels when their tenancies expire in five years. The authorities still need to scout for more affordable housing options to help young people climb the housing ladder in the long run.

The author is deputy director of Hong Kong CPPCC Youth Association.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.