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What is the oldest public housing estate in Hong Kong? This question has surely intrigued many. To answer this, one might need to delve deeply into the history of housing development in Hong Kong. However, since curiosity runs high, let’s get straight to the point: the Model Housing Estate(模範邨) on King’s Road, located at the crossroads of North Point and Quarry Bay, is the oldest surviving public housing estate in Hong Kong. Its earliest buildings were completed as far back as 1952, which means it has a history of over 70 years, predating the catalyst of public housing in Hong Kong: the Shek Kip Mei fire.
My Years of Association with Model Housing Estate
Before delving into the history and development of the Model Housing Estate, let me share my personal connection with it. (Friendly reminder: If you’re interested in diving directly into its historical development, you can skip to the next section.)
For me, my first memory of becoming acquainted with the Model Housing Estate was around 2014. At the time, I changed jobs and started working for a magazine. The nearest MTR station to the office was Quarry Bay’s C exit, and as soon as you stepped out of that exit, the Model Housing Estate came into view. The path alongside the estate became a routine part of my commute. This route continued for almost 5 years, even as I changed jobs a couple of times. Due to a fortunate coincidence, I found myself passing by the Model Housing Estate again on my way to the office, albeit for just a few months this time (as the company later relocated). This brief encounter added another layer to my somewhat shallow connection, extending it to a total of over 5 and a half years.
Long History Yet Remarkably Low-Key
Despite frequently passing by the Model Housing Estate over the years, it was always a fleeting glance. What stands out the most is the relatively short buildings near the MTR exit, recognizable by their light yellow and pale pink walls – a hallmark of the estate. Honestly, over the years, while noticing the estate, I never delved into its age. After all, its appearance wasn’t overtly dilapidated, making it difficult to believe it had a history spanning over 70 years. Hence, discovering that it is the oldest surviving housing estate in Hong Kong came as quite a surprise. Moreover, due to complex ownership issues, despite its long history, the Model Housing Estate rarely made headlines about reconstruction. Consequently, its visibility and discourse are lower than estates like Wah Fu Estate, Choi Hung Estate, and Ma Tau Wai Estate. As a result, for me, the Model Housing Estate remained a quietly existing presence.
Understanding the Housing Organization Behind the Estate
The quiet presence of the Model Housing Estate today is closely tied to its historical development. While its management now falls under the Housing Department, the land and building rights of the Model Housing Estate are still held by the Hong Kong Model Housing Society.
Let me briefly introduce the Hong Kong Model Housing Society. Like the Hong Kong Housing Society and the Hong Kong Housing Authority, it was one of the early housing organizations in Hong Kong. However, unlike the Housing Authority, both the Hong Kong Model Housing Society and the Hong Kong Housing Society were voluntary housing organizations. According to reports from the The Kung Sheung Daily News, the Hong Kong Model Housing Society was established in 1950, primarily to provide affordable housing for white-collar workers with relatively higher incomes. At the time, the Model Housing Estate was a project facilitated by government land allocation and financed by the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. The estate included affordable housing.
Early planning for the Model Housing Estate was typically executed in multiple phases. The earliest buildings, known as A and B blocks, were completed in 1952. Even then, Sir Alexander Grantham, the then Governor of Hong Kong, inspected the newly constructed buildings, demonstrating the significance accorded to them. Following 1952, another building was constructed in the vacant central area in 1953. Subsequently, from 1952 to 1956, low-rise Blocks A to F were completed, taking about 4 years to finish all the buildings.
Though the Model Housing Estate was established in the 1950s, the unit design was quite decent for the time. Considering that the Hong Kong Model Housing Society aimed to serve the middle-class citizens, their financial status was relatively stable. The units in the Model Housing Estate featured separate living and bedroom spaces, independent kitchens, bathrooms with showers, and private balconies. The estate also included facilities like a basketball court, gardens, and playgrounds. Although it didn’t evolve into a self-contained community like later estates such as Wah Fu Estate and So Uk Estate, the Model Housing Estate laid the foundation for such development.
Unfinished Reconstruction Over the Years
The Model Housing Estate decided to undergo reconstruction in the late 1960s. The Hong Kong government approved the first phase of the reconstruction project in September 1969, which commenced in 1970. The original plan had four phases of reconstruction. The first phase aimed to increase the building height to more than 20 stories and was completed in 1973. The second phase was more intricate, with original plans for demolishing blocks A and B, resulting in 110 units. However, only blocks A and B units 1, 2, 3, 9, and 10, totaling 55 units, were demolished to construct the second building. This phase provided 190 units and was completed in 1979.
The Missing Manager and Vanished Organization
The expectation might be that after completing the second phase of reconstruction, the third phase was inevitable. However, life often surprises us. According to a 1980 report in the The Kung Sheung Daily News, the “Former Manager of the Model Housing Society Resigned and Hasn’t Been at Work for Three Months,” leading to the inability to allocate units. Simultaneously, in November 1979, the Housing Authority “took over the estate upon the request of the Model Housing Society.”
The Housing Authority continues to be the property spokesperson, responsible for the estate’s management. However, the land and building rights of the Model Housing Estate remain with the Hong Kong Model Housing Society. This society, however, seems to have vanished, leaving its whereabouts unknown for many years. Consequently, the third and fourth phases of reconstruction have been put on hold. According to a 2006 report in the Shue Yan University Student News, “The Housing Department took over the Model Village without obtaining the original property records. Additionally, the Housing Society never published annual reports or similar publications before its dissolution, making it impossible to understand the estate’s past development.” This lack of information has kept the planned third and fourth phases of reconstruction on hold. Moreover, it has cast a veil of mystery over the history of the Hong Kong Model Housing Society and the Model Housing Estate.
The Oldest Housing Building in Hong Kong?
So, since the Model Housing Estate is the oldest surviving public housing estate in Hong Kong, what about the oldest housing building? The answer lies with Man Shun House (Block A) and Man King House (Block B). Both were completed in 1952, featuring 6 stories with 5 units on each floor. These two buildings were eventually reduced to half their original size as part of the reconstruction plan, resulting in their current appearance.
Reflecting on my experiences wandering through the Model Housing Estate, perhaps it was because of passing by the MTR station so often that everything seemed routine. Yet, actually exploring the estate has been quite rare. I remember going there with colleagues and friends and even my father to dine at a seemingly old and dimly lit Tsui Tsui Cha Chaan Teng, which offered salt-baked chicken rice – not particularly remarkable in taste, but it had a dimly lit atmosphere and a traditional layout that stuck with me. Whenever I visited, it was usually during off-peak hours, so I enjoyed sitting in a booth to have my meal.
To conclude, regarding the Model Housing Estate, aside from Tsui Tsui Cha Chaan Teng, I’ve occasionally visited the post office and convenience store. However, the estate’s scope has largely remained a mystery. Stepping into the Model Housing Estate, while not a particularly large area, offers a striking contrast to the bustling environment outside. Few pedestrians cross the streets, and even fewer people relax on benches, numbering less than five. It’s incredibly quiet – a stillness you rarely experience. I recall feeling envious as a magazine reporter of those living in the Model Housing Estate. For them, the location was incredibly convenient, offering multiple transportation options: the nearby MTR station, buses, and trams. From a personal perspective, walking to the office (on foot) was possible, and although there were no shopping malls or markets within the estate, plenty of options were available nearby. The environment was bustling yet tranquil – quite a favorable combination (laughs).
Basic Info (Model Housing Estate, 模範邨)
Location: No. 79 King’s Road
Years of Intake: 1952, 1953, 1973 & 1979
No of Blocks: 6
Type(s) of Block(s): Non-standard, Old Slab
Name of Block(s): Block A (Man Shun House), Block B (Man King House), Block C (Man Hong House), Block C2 (Man Hong House), Block D (Man Ning House), Block E (Man Cheung House), Block F (Man Lok House)