The protests in Hong Kong are occupying world headlines recently.It is not only the problems happening in the center of urban Hong Kong that make the government anxious. Miles away from the modern skyscrapers, in the rural areas of Hong Kong, the so-called small house policy also weighs heavily on the government.
The small house policy allows an indigenous male villager who is 18 years old and is descended through the male line from a resident in 1898 of a recognized village in the New Territories an entitlement to one concessionary grant during his lifetime to build one small house.
The small house policy arose during the colonial period in Hong Kong. As a peninsula that constitutes one of the three main regions of Hong Kong, New Territories were leased from the Qing Dynasty to the United Kingdom government in 1898 for 99 years in the Second Convention of Peking. The crucial point in this transaction is that it was a “lease.” Unlike Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon Peninsula, which were ceded to Britain in perpetuity, the ownership of the New Territories belonged to their residents.
At that time, Hong Kong Island and Kowloon were not as densely populated, but there were already about 400 villages in the New Territories with more than 100,000 inhabitants. The small house policy was introduced in 1972. The objective was to calm down the resistance of inhabitants and improve the then prevailing low standard of housing in the rural areas of the New Territories .This photo shows how traditional village houses look.
The small house policy still existed after the United Kingdom returned Hong Kong to China in 1997. Article 40 of the Basic Law said that the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government shall protect the lawful traditional rights and interests of the indigenous inhabitants of the New Territories.
According to the small house policy, each house could be built to a maximum of three stories and a footprint of not more than 700 square feet. Imagine that in Hong Kong, where per capita living space is less than 150 square feet_that is not small at all! There are more than 240,000 indigenous males in New Territories and the number is increasing. Obviously, limited land resources will never meet the application for all these people.
Although a large number of indigenous males who had moved and were living overseas for many years, they returned to their home villages in New Territories to apply for the small house rights. If their application were approved, they built houses and then sold them for money. If the houses were sold within 5 years of completion, the villager or the developer must pay the government a premium, which is still probably a good deal consider the housing prices in Hong Kong. But more often, the right holders sold their rights to developers even before the houses were completed. Many New Territories village chiefs take the lead in cooperation with the developers, collect the small rights in the village and sell the rights to a developer who would then build mansions for sale. This photo below shows the new modern villa built in the rural area in New Territories. They are really popular because of the natural surroundings and fresh air.
The actions of the small house right holders have upset many citizens in Hong Kong because it is unfair treatment that grants land rights to indigenous males but not to every citizen of Hong Kong. As a result,the government has been reviewing the New Territories small house policy for a long time. Many personal applications are shelved, but it has yet to decide on the final outcome of this tedious exercise.