Welfare Housing before the Shek Kip Mei Fire: A Study of Four Philanthropic Housing Organizations in Hong Kong, 1950s-1960s

Project: Research

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Facing an acute housing shortage and high housing prices in recent years, the Hong Kong government is exploring the possibility for non-government organizations (NGOs) to provide welfare housing for the working class. This research project aims to provide a historical reference for the government and interested NGOs, through case studies of welfare housing schemes developed by four philanthropic agencies from the 1950s to the 1960s. It seeks to demonstrate that philanthropic housing can be a viable alternative to government public housing.Official accounts often describe the governmental response to resettle the victims of the disastrous squatter fire in Shek Kip Mei in 1953 as the beginning of welfare housing in Hong Kong. Such a description renders the initiative to provide homes for the poor a mere disaster relief effort rather than a thoughtful response to the rapid population growth in postwar Hong Kong. It also implies that the colonial government was the only welfare housing provider at that time, ignoring the efforts of non-government agencies. Hence, the government’s resettlement housing built on the destroyed Shek Kip Mei site was often incorrectly considered the first welfare housing prototype in Hong Kong. In fact, before the Shek Kip Mei fire, a number of philanthropic housing agencies had already been established to provide low-cost, working-class accommodation. What motivated the founding of these philanthropic housing agencies? What form did the early philanthropic housing take? What prompted the government eventually to take on the responsibility to provide public housing? Most importantly, what lessons can we draw from these past efforts in terms of solving Hong Kong’s current housing problems?While many philanthropic organizations built cottage villages in the 1950s to accommodate the poor, only four organizations have had the vision to build multi-story welfare housing: the Hong Kong Model Housing Society (HKMHS), the Hong Kong Housing Society (HKHS), the Hong Kong Settlers Housing Corporation Limited (HKSHCL), and the Hong Kong Economic Housing Society (HKEHS). These four organizations effectively initiated the high-density collective living culture in Hong Kong. This research study examines the history of these four philanthropic housing organizations and compares the planning and design of their earliest welfare housing estates with those constructed by the government in the same period of time. It argues that these philanthropic housing schemes have germinated ideas relating to architecture, management, and tenant selection that later shaped the course of the government’s long-term public housing development.


Project number9042120
Grant typeGRF
Effective start/end date1/01/1524/12/18

    Research areas

  • Housing history,Welfare housing,Housing design,Philanthropic organizations,