The role of Hong Kong government in providing public housing began because of a fire in 1953 that destroyed shanty homes in Shek Kip Mei, which is located in the Sham Shui Po district. The Shek Kip Mei area housed many immigrant Chinese that had fled from China after the invasion of Japan . Their shanty homes had been made of wood and steel in a community of narrow passage ways. In order to cook food, the immigrants used kerosene, twigs, and cardboard. These hazardous elements created the Skek Kip Mei area fire of 1953, leaving 53,000 immigrants homeless and forcing the Hong Kong government to intercede in public housing in ways never before seen.
In response to the fire, the Hong Kong government set up the Hong Kong Housing Society as well as the Hong Kong Housing Authority in order to accommodate the shanty dwellers and provide a better living environment for lower class citizens in the city. Many of Hong Kong’s immigrants still resided in unsafe and unsanitary squatter huts built into the many hillsides that surround the city.
This lead the Hong Kong Housing authority to create large housing blocks for lower and middle class citizens. These were known as Mark I blocks and were often constructed in the shape of an H or an I; they had 6 to 7 stories, no running water, no electricity and shared bathrooms. During the 10 year period of 1954 to 1964, the Hong Kong government built 140 Mark I blocks.
Even after the construction of 140 Mark I blocks between the years of 1954 to 1964, 600,000 people still lived in primitive squatter huts. The government then built Mark II blocks, which would provide better quality of living for its inhabitants by providing tap water, personal bathrooms and a balcony. Each Mark II block would have more stories, either 7 or 8, in order to accommodate the exploding lower class of Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong government continued their expansion and improvement of public housing through the construction of Mark III blocks. Each block was elevated to eight stories and the unique added feature to these buildings was that they had apartments on each side of the corridors of their I or H shaped buildings.
Between 1965 and 1969, Mark IV blocks were built in Hong Kong with similar features to the other tenements except that each building had 16 stories and each room had a private bathroom that was on the balcony.
From 1966 to 1971, the Hong Kong government built Mark V blocks; these buildings did not differentiate much from the Mark IV block with the exception that they had additional square footage to provide a more comfortable living space to tenants.
Beginning in 1970, construction of Mark VI blocks began; these buildings rose to 16 stories and added additional space to each unit. In addition, Twin Tower blocks having 20-23 story units having 36 to 46 square meters.
When Sir Murray MacLehose took over as mayor of Hong Kong in 1971, social unrest among the lower class existed because of the housing problem. He and his administration developed a 10 year plan on how to improve the housing conditions for the residents of Hong Kong. Part of his proposals included incorporating more lifestyle conveniences into the urban planning of these apartment complexes, including nearby shops, bus stops, parking spots, and recreational areas. The Wa Fu Estate served as the model for future public housing.
As more and more of the lower and middle class of Hong Kong began to save money, a Home Ownership Scheme was created in 1973 to help these individuals transition from renting apartments to purchasing apartments. These new apartment complexes would be built near other public housing and incorporate the lifestyle conveniences mentioned in the previous paragraph.
Since the 1970s to present day, design of public housing has followed a similar trend of higher buildings, an increase in the average area of each apartment, as well as an increase in the average living space per person. In addition to these improvements, buildings have made attempts to accommodate the disabled, elderly, improve the lifestyle conveniences at each complex and take environmental precautions.