21 July 2019
SynBOX in Hung Hom is one of the facilities that offer co-living space in Hong Kong. Photo: SynBOX
SynBOX in Hung Hom is one of the facilities that offer co-living space in Hong Kong. Photo: SynBOX

Move over co-working, co-living is the next big thing in HK

In a previous life working in property management, I was part of a team responsible for moving corporate guys from their fixed desks into open-plan offices. The grief of learning that they would have to give up their desks replete with years of personal belongings was too much for many. Yes, they would have to clear their desk everyday! No, there would be no room for Hello Kitty stickers – welcome to life in the real estate crunch.

Fast forward five years and I’m writing from a co-working space, of which there seems to be an ever-growing number in Hong Kong. I am one of many who can’t afford my own office, but I enjoy this style of working. It can be distracting being around all these fun-loving types – you might ask yourself if people actually do work here? Hint: They do, it’s just way more interesting than a traditional office.

While having a coffee with some people in the co-working space, the topic of co-living came up. I hadn’t heard of it: I thought that most people in Hong Kong already “co-live” in relatively cramped conditions. The concept is quite simple – take the co-working principle and apply it to housing.

Lack of affordable housing for young people is a global trend, and co-living has taken off as a result. You pay rent on a room and it funds communal spaces that residents share, along with Wi-Fi, themes for each floor, community workshops, and funky colors on building exteriors. It’s sort of like a kibbutz for the Snap generation who prefer flexibility over striving for home ownership. Who can blame them in a market where homeowners need either to be funded or are extraordinarily successful?

Located in Yau Ma Tei, Bibliothèque has more than 150 spaces with a choice of single bed and bunk bed, with common areas, pantry and cooking facilities. Synergy Biz, which developed Bibliothèque, also runs SynBOX in Hung Hom. Other spaces include M3 International Youth Community with locations in Central, Prince Edward, Tsim Sha Tsui and Sham Shui Po; and Mini Ocean Park Station in Shouson Hill. This isn’t a flash in the pan – more are on the way.

Prices range depending on your chosen set-up, but are still mostly under the average rent on Hong Kong Island of HK$16,214, based on Midland Realty figures for December 2017, and that is without the hassle of utility bills, getting the Wi-Fi going, management fees, or dealing with other inevitable issues that arise with conventional renting.

While detractors have called co-living spaces “cage homes in fancy dress”, they look a million times more appealing than subdivided housing options in Hong Kong, and often at a similar price.

Critics are also missing the point: Co-living is meeting the physical and emotional needs of young people by providing community aspects to budget housing, and often offering the ability to live in different cities in their network. And if indeed it does take off, well, the proof is in the pudding.

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