“Housing is not an issue that can be solved by money alone,” says Ricky Yu.
In Hong Kong, a city where more than 1.4 million of the city’s 7.4 million residents live below the poverty line, the problem of affordable housing is especially acute and a major cause of societal unrest. A decade ago, Yu, who had been working a fast-paced, high-pressure management job, decided it was time to pursue “a high-return investment on my life”. He left his career in the corporate world to start Light Be, a social housing platform that seeks to lift individuals out of short-term poverty. Light Be, a name simplified from “let there be light”, has secured more than 100 flats throughout the city where tenants are offered below-market rents for a period of two to three years, as well as career, family and financial guidance.
“I really wanted to do something for others,” Yu says. “I started with housing simply because it is the most complicated social problem that has been the norm for many years, and nobody was able to do anything about it. How can that be? I feel sad to see so many capable people in Hong Kong feel they are almost trapped by the housing problem.”
Young couples facing an unexpected pregnancy might suddenly find themselves unable to maintain two jobs or their own home, turning a happy moment into a cause for anxiety. Single mothers might not be able to balance childcare responsibilities and employment. Light Be identifies candidates who can benefit from shared residences by creating their own support networks until they can afford homes of their own. The flats are typically leased from individual owners who share Yu’s concern for the housing crisis. Last year, in an enormous corporate bequest, New World Development donated farmland in Tin Shui Wai that was leased to Light Be (for a sum of HK$1) to build 100 more homes in its first Light Village, to open in 2022.
“I believe in the talent of people,” Yu says. “If we give them a second chance and the right conditions, they can go far. My first tenant was a single mother and her son who lived in a place that was so small and dark and smelled so bad. The first time I met them, the son was studying at a small table with water dripping from the ceiling. But that young man just called me two months ago to tell me he had purchased his own flat. He was so proud.”
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