Tight squeeze for HK pro­fes­sion­als

The Phnom Penh Post - - BUSINESS - Yan Zhao

AS HOUS­ING prices spi­ral in Hong Kong, young pro­fes­sion­als are liv­ing in ev­er­shrink­ing spa­ces, with box­like “nano-flats” and co-shares touted as fashionable so­lu­tions.

Blocks of sleek minia­ture apart­ments packed with mod cons are spring­ing up around the densely packed city, pitched as an at­trac­tive and more af­ford­able lifestyle choice, but still at an eye-wa­ter­ing cost.

Fi­nance worker Adrian Law, 25, paid over HK$6 mil­lion (US$765,000) two years ago for his tiny stu­dio apart­ment in a new de­vel­op­ment in the gen­tri­fied Sai Ying Pun neigh­bour­hood.

The slim glass build­ing squeezes four apart­ments onto each floor and in­cludes “nano-flats”, a new term for homes of un­der 215 square feet (20 square me­tres).

Law’s stu­dio is a frac­tion big­ger at 292 square feet, with a price per square foot of nearly HK$20,000.

He has adapted to the lim­ited space by buy­ing trans­formable fur­ni­ture – his bed folds away against the wall to re­veal a desk tucked un­der­neath – and he keeps most of his be­long­ings at his par­ents’ home.

But with a fin­ger­print-ac­ti­vated door lock, wash­ing ma­chine, TV, fridge and even cur­tains, Law says the flat came with ev­ery­thing he needed.

“Prop­erty de­vel­op­ers are mar­ket­ing the con­cept to buy­ers that they only need a place to sleep and can do any­thing else out­side,” he said, ad­mit­ting he eats mostly take-away food as the kitchen is too small for cook­ing.

Law’s par­ents helped him put down a 30 per­cent de­posit when he bought the apart­ment and he sees it as an in­vest­ment. He pays HK$24,000 per month for the mort­gage, around 40 per­cent of his salary.

“One can only get into a win­ning po­si­tion by own­ing a place,” he said.

“If you’re rent­ing, you are spend­ing all your money with­out gain­ing any­thing at the end.”

Hong Kong’s real es­tate is the most ex­pen­sive in the world, with me­dian house prices at 19.4 times me­dian in­comes – the worst ra­tio glob­ally ac­cord­ing to the An­nual De­mographia In­ter­na­tional Hous­ing Af­ford­abil­ity Sur­vey 2018.

Prop­erty prices have been fu­elled by an in­flux of money from wealthy main­land Chi­nese in­vestors and de­vel­op­ers, and the city gov­ern­ment stands ac­cused of fail­ing to con­trol the red-hot prop­erty mar­ket.

More than 60 per­cent of new flats un­der 430 square feet are taken up by in­vest­ment buy­ers, ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment fig­ures.

With the abil­ity to buy a flat in­creas­ingly out of reach for the ma­jor­ity of Hong Kong’s 7.4 mil­lion res­i­dents, de­vel­op­ers are cre­at­ing smaller spa­ces to reach a wider mar­ket.

Un­der Hong Kong law there is no limit to how small a flat can be.

Ryan Ip, se­nior re­searcher at pub­lic pol­icy think tank Our Hong Kong Foundation, de­scribes it as an “un­healthy” trend with de­vel­op­ers putting profit above qual­ity of life.

“If you count the per-square-foot price for smaller-size flats, it is even higher than larger flats,” said Ip, who be­lieves men­tal and phys­i­cal health will suf­fer if prop­er­ties con­tinue to shrink.

Rental prices have also rock­eted and the wait for gov­ern­ment-sub­sidised pub­lic hous­ing can be five years.

Ip says ex­pand­ing land sup­ply by any means, in­clud­ing recla­ma­tion from the sea, is the only way to solve the af­ford­able hous­ing short­age.

But other lo­cal land re­search groups ar­gue Hong Kong should de­velop un­der-utilised brown­field sites and idle gov­ern­ment land first.

The gov­ern­ment is con­sid­er­ing a host of op­tions, from new ar­ti­fi­cial is­lands to de­vel­op­ing the city’s cher­ished coun­try parks.

De­sign­ers are also putting for­ward their own new con­cepts, in­clud­ing con­vert­ing concrete pipes into liv­ing spa­ces and trans­form­ing ship­ping con­tain­ers into homes.

Shar­ing space

Many poorer Hong Kong res­i­dents re­sort to rent­ing dingy “sub­di­vided” flats – apart­ments carved up into mul­ti­ple liv­ing spa­ces.

But even for those on a good salary, a de­cent home is of­ten un­af­ford­able.

Jezz Ng, 29, earns a monthly wage of HK$32,000 as a teacher and has cho- sen to live in a new co-share hous­ing set-up, rather than shelling out for her own rent. At week­ends she goes home to her par­ents.

Ng shares a unit with seven other women where she has her own small room, which can fit a sin­gle bed and a desk.

Housed in a re­vi­talised res­i­den­tial build­ing in the work­ing-class neigh­bour­hood of Yau Ma Tei, pri­vately owned Bi­b­lio­theque of­fers 166 bed spa­ces across 15 units, with monthly rents rang­ing from HK$3,500 to HK$6,200. All ten­ants have ac­cess to com­mu­nal fa­cil­i­ties, from shower ar­eas and a kitchen to ac­tiv­ity rooms and study rooms.

“When I started to look for places to rent, my maximum bud­get was HK$8,000 in­clud­ing util­i­ties, but a sim­ple, de­cent stu­dio room could eas­ily go over this price,” Ng said.

She now pays HK$5,600 per month, which she says al­lows her to sup­port her par­ents fi­nan­cially and pay her sis­ter’s tu­ition fees for a mas­ter’s de­gree – a com­mon prac­tice for young adults who are work­ing.

Ng adds she feels less cramped than when she lived at home.

Founder of the co-share, Keith Wong, says it is de­signed for young pro­fes­sion­als who need time to “ac­cu­mu­late wealth” by lim­it­ing their out­go­ings.

For now it is an ideal so­lu­tion, says Ng.

“Even though I have a sta­ble job and the salary goes up steadily, it will never catch up with the in­crease in prop­erty prices.”

ISAAC LAWRENCE/AFP

Jezz Ng sits on her bed where she rents a small liv­ing space in a co-shar­ing build­ing in the Mong Kok dis­trict of Hong Kong, on April 28.

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