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A sheltering, well-sheltered career

The opportunity to make a contribution to improving the living standards of Hong Kong Housing Authority (HA) tenants is a continuous supply of motivation for Connie Lai Fan Siu-wah, chief planning officer with the Hong Kong Housing Department (HD).

Given her position, Lai is directly involved with the redevelopment of existing HA properties and the planning and development of new properties. The work requires identifying new suitable public housing sites, developing conceptual plans, organising planning applications and seeking community engagement and support.

"Along with my colleagues, I am able to follow a project from inception to completion and even to the management stage," says Lai, noting that the HA administers the public housing programme with the support of its executive arm, the HD.

"The work I do, can - and does - affect people in terms of meeting their basic housing needs, recreation, transport, education, and even shopping," says Lai, who started her housing career as a researcher for the HA. "It gives me a great deal of satisfaction to think my contribution makes Hong Kong a better place to live and play."

Lai says the area of her work she enjoys the most is meeting tenants. "I take pleasure in learning about their aspirations, understanding their views and thinking and examining the improvement opportunities that redevelopment projects provide," says Lai, who graduated from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University with a high diploma in business studies, specialising in transport, before obtaining a master's degree in urban planning from Cardiff University, in the United Kingdom.

Lai says standout projects she has been involved with include the re-development of Upper and Lower Ngau Tau Kok estates. More than 10 years in the planning, the redevelopment of the adjacent estates depended on the co-operation and support of over 13,500 households.

"Within the HA, we say we plan with the people, for the people, and we put this into practice every step of the way, from conception and initial planning to completion," Lai says.

The redevelopment required a sensitive multi-disciplinary approach within the HA to maintain the social fabric.

"There was also the need to relocate schools, shops, community halls, libraries, social welfare and community centres and facilities for young and elderly. These days, when I meet estate tenants, it is a good feeling when they say they are happy in their new homes," says Lai.

She says adding "green features" and amenities to HA estates to make life more comfortable for tenants is another source of motivation. A recent example is the six-storey amenity and community building at Tin Ching Estate in Tin Shui Wai. The building houses around 20 non-government organisations providing social, health and community services.