Legitimate or Illegitimate NIMBYs? Understanding Opposition to Public Housing through an Interpretive Approach

Principal Investigator: Mandy H.M. LAU
Funding body: GRF-ECS


This project examines the conflicts which emerge during the siting of affordable housing. While the public accepts the need for affordable housing in general, there is often strong opposition when concrete projects are proposed. In recent years, there has been increasing resistance to the siting of public housing across different districts in Hong Kong. Through analysis of policy documents and in-depth interviews with stakeholders, the project aims to investigate why such conflicts emerge, and how they are resolved. In particular, it seeks to understand why some opposition motives are regarded as legitimate, while others are labeled as illegitimate NIMBYism.


  1. To understand why opposition to the siting of public housing has increased in Hong Kong;
  2. To investigate how actors construct the legitimacy of different oppositional frames;
  3. To explore possible strategies which may help alleviate conflicts over siting of public housing in Hong Kong.


A framing analysis of the inadequate housing problem in Hong Kong

Principal Investigator: Mandy H.M. Lau
Source of Funding: GRF


This project examines policy controversies over the inadequate housing problem in Hong Kong. While there is an extensive literature on slum housing in developing countries, there are relatively fewer studies on inadequate housing in the developed world. In reality, inadequate housing also exists in highly developed cities, such as Hong Kong, where tens of thousands of households live in overcrowded sub-divided flats.

The first phase of this project is to outline the changing visibility of the inadequate housing problem in Hong Kong, through examining statistical data and news reports. In particular, it attempts to explain the rapid entrance of this problem onto the political agenda over the last few years.

The second phase of the project applies the method of framing analysis, to analyse why policy controversies emerged, despite consensus over the severity of the inadequate housing problem. The framing method goes beyond conventional policy analysis methods, which tend to focus on the efficiency or cost-effectiveness of different policy interventions. It acknowledges the prevalence of controversies in public policymaking, since policy actors have divergent interpretations about the causes of a problem, and hence the appropriateness of different policy responses.

The final phase of the project involves interviewing policy actors, to examine how framing strategies interact with the material resources and socio-political power possessed by different actors, and how the local policymaking context influences the choice of particular courses of action.

Overall, the project seeks to deepen our understanding of the role of framing strategies in the policymaking process. This approach helps explain why particular policies emerge in response to the inadequate housing problem, and why controversies persist. In addition, it provides insights into possible strategies for reframing, such as the generation of new frames that could potentially bridge the divide between adversaries, and could pave the way towards more consensual solutions.


  1. To outline the changing visibility of the inadequate housing problem in Hong Kong, and explain its rapid entrance onto the political agenda in recent years
  2. To identify the strategies which different actors have adopted to frame the causes of and solutions to the inadequate housing problem
  3. To analyse how framing strategies interact with material resources, political power and the policymaking context, to shape the set of policy responses in Hong Kong
  4. To explain why controversies have emerged during the policymaking process, despite consensus over the severity of the inadequate housing problem
  5. To identify possibilities for re-framing the inadequate housing debate towards more consensual solutions