23 February 2019
Soaring rents and short supply of housing units is prompting people to be innovative in terms of finding a place to live. Photo: Michael Wolf
Soaring rents and short supply of housing units is prompting people to be innovative in terms of finding a place to live. Photo: Michael Wolf

Housing woes in HK: Coping with the challenge

Hongkongers are no strangers to subdivided flats, cubicles or even caged bed spaces. A report last year from a government expert panel has estimated that there are altogether 66,900 subdivided flats in the territory housing over 170,000 people.

Even that figure could be on the conservative side, as some NGOs accuse authorities of severely underestimating the actual situation. Whatever the real number may be, there is one thing that no one can deny: cramped living is a cross to bear in Hong Kong.

One would be wrong to assume that only new immigrants or the underclass live in the tiny flats. A Hong Kong University graduate who majored in law has recently signed a contract to rent a subdivided flat in Sai Wan for HK$5,000 a month, Hong Kong Economic Journal Monthly reports.

The irony is that, given its size of less than 70 square feet, it means the unit rent is HK$71 per square feet, substantially higher than that at many high-rise luxury condos on lease in the same district.

It is said that if a subdivided flat is regular in size with a window, a separate bath room and has basic appliances like a refrigerator, many college graduates who majored in law or finance and have just started their jobs in sleek modern office towers in Central and Admiralty, will surely scramble for it.

Indeed, exorbitant rents in the city have driven some tenants to find accommodation in places that may be surprising to many locals.

A foreign couple who moved here from Britain has been living in a floating home in a typhoon shelter in Aberdeen, a residential and industrial town on the southern Hong Kong island, for more than ten years. Their house is indeed an ancient-style sampan and it is said that a fully fitted-out boat nowadays only costs HK$1-2 million. But berth charges and getting power and water supply from onshore facilities will add costs and hassle.

In another case reported by HKEJ Monthly, some investors have rented an abandoned piggery in Yuen Long for just HK$30,000 a year, then renovated and divided the premise into 20 mini flats with kitchen and bathrooms and leased out to some workers for at least HK$3,000 a month per unit. The initial investment can be recouped within just three months.

Also, despite the government’s repeated warning on safety risks, the rental market has witnessed a surge in tenants living in industrial buildings in Kwun Tong, Tsuen Wan, Kwai Chung, Fo Tan etc. Living in these buildings is also a legal offense as it violates the terms of use in land leases.

Most of these tenants are young entrepreneurs or couples, and the virtue is that there is no need for them to rent a separate office since their flats can be multipurpose in nature — office during the day and dormitory at night.

Society for Community Organization, a non-governmental and human rights advocacy group in Hong Kong, said in a 2012 survey that there were 20,000 people living in industrial buildings.

The Long Term Housing Strategy Steering Committee set up by chief executive CY Leung had proposed to build 200,000 public homes in 10 years, but the Audit Commission has determined that only 179,000 units can be supplied, given the land constraint.

Vivian Xue from Hong Kong Economic Journal Monthly contributed to this story. 

Related stories:

Mainland students crowd out locals in HK rental housing

Why Tai Wai rental flats are looking pretty

– Contact the writer at [email protected]


A floating home in Aberdeen Typhoon Shelter. Photo: Vivian Xue

A boat is much cheaper than a tiny flat, so a floating home can be an option for some. Photo: Vivian Xue

There are also some capsule-like bed spaces for rent in the city. Photo:

EJ Insight writer

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