A house to build a dream on

HK’s lat­est hous­ing fa­cil­ity ca­ter­ing exclusively to sin­gle, young peo­ple opened this month. How­ever, ten­ants wish­ing to stay on are ex­pected to get in­volved in com­mu­nity events. Eve­lyn Yu re­ports.

China Daily (Canada) - - HONG KONG -

Ablack piano is set off to the side be­side a grey wall ar­rayed with framed photographs of Hong Kong as it was in the 1960s, lush, over­ex­posed and heav­ily at­mo­spheric. Upon closer in­spec­tion the pho­tos prove to be im­ages from Wong Kar­wai’s break through film, Days of Be­ing Wild. The metro­nomic tick­tock, tick-tock of a cast iron clock be­side the concierge counts the pass­ing time, in the lobby of the newly ren­o­vated com­plex, the third project of M³ In­ter­na­tional Youth Com­mu­nity.

The cin­e­matic theme is re­flected through­out the five-storey rental build­ing which opened this month in Prince Ed­ward. Com­plet­ing the retro-look, there’s a wooden ta­ble in front of a tiled, yel­low mo­saic, on the ad­ja­cent wall. The ta­ble bears a close sim­i­lar­ity to the one in the movie’s clas­sic poster fea­tur­ing six of the lead­ing ac­tors and ac­tresses sit­ting in a cha chaan teng, or a Hong Kong cafe.

The care­ful at­ten­tion to de­tail is all part of a plan to dis­pense with the stereo­typ­i­cal im­age of cramped, shabby apart­ments where young peo­ple here usu­ally live, in the city with the du­bi­ous dis­tinc­tion as one of the world’s most ex­pen­sive rental mar­kets.

Rents here start at HK$4,312, but there’s more to the place than sim­ply a cozy place to come home to at the end of the work day. The com­plex is meant to fos­ter a strong com­mu­nity spirit, says Sa­muel Gu , one of six M³ co­founders.

Hong Kong’s first youth com­mu­nity for rent places heavy em­pha­sis on in­di­vid­ual de­vel­op­ment in a place where young peo­ple may pur­sue their dreams, he says. Ten­ants not only share apart­ments, they are ex­pected to take part in read­ing par­ties, cooking sem­i­nars, self-de­fense work­shops, pho­tog­ra­phy com­pe­ti­tions, etc. There’s a big pub­lic space with an LCD TV, pro­jec­tor and con­fer­ence room. Soli­tary types need not ap­ply. Pe­ri­odic per­for­mance re­views will be car­ried out, and ten­ants who aren’t mak­ing friends with other ten­ants and who are not en­gag­ing in com­mu­nity ac­tiv­i­ties are likely to find their rent­ing con­tract ter­mi­nated.

Gu came to Hong Kong from the main­land. So did four other co-founders. “Young peo­ple come to the city with big dreams, yet the acute hous­ing prob­lem wears down their dreams in Hong Kong’s cramped apart­ments, day by day. Fi­nally they re­treat to the main­land,” he said.

“What is your dream?” is the ques­tion posed on M³’s of­fi­cial web­site. It reads like a stan­dard sales pitch, but in the case of M³ the ques­tion isn’t rhetor­i­cal. The founders ac­cept only ten­ants un­der 45, who are not mar­ried and don’t have kids. Most im­por­tantly they must have a dream they are pur­su­ing.

Ad­mit­ting that it seems quite a grandiose plan, Gu coun­ters that the dreams of young peo­ple in Hong Kong are eas­ily squashed in the first place be­cause of the un­de­sir­able state of the hous­ing mar­ket.

He thinks the com­mu­nity should of­fer a base for am­bi­tious young tal­ents, a place where they can set­tle down, feel com­fort­able, and grow to­gether in a con­ge­nial, closely-knit set­ting.

The stan­dard they set has al­ready been wel­comed en­thu­si­as­ti­cally by the city’s young peo­ple. When M³ opened its first res­i­den­tial unit last year, the 30 in­de­pen­dent rooms in Sham Shui Po, re­ceived over 400 ap­pli­ca­tions within a month, Gu said.

There’s a screen­ing process. Ap­pli­cants are in­ter­viewed on the phone by M³’s staff. They are ex­pected to give an ac­count of their dream in life and how they are go­ing about pur­su­ing it. Gu said suc­cess­ful ap­pli­cants, more of­ten than not, are young pro­fes­sion­als, ar­chi­tects, soft­ware en­gi­neers, en­trepreneurs, for­eign stu­dents, etc.

The M³ In­ter­na­tional Youth Com­mu­nity is mod­eled on the main­land’s highly suc­cess­ful You+ In­ter­na­tional Youth Com­mu­nity, a pi­o­neer­ing ef­fort in the youthtar­geted rental mar­ket.

Co-founder of You+, Liu Yang, said he’d en­dured all the frus­tra­tions of be­ing a ten­ant for 17 years. Dur­ing that span he said he moved over 30 times from damp base­ment in Bei­jing, to claus­tro­pho­bic quar­ter in Hong Kong. He fought with land­lords who failed to re­turn his se­cu­rity de­posit, or who sold the place out from un­der him and gave him the boot.

“We all say young peo­ple are the hope of fu­ture, but when it comes to rent­ing, when young peo­ple are try­ing to make their way in big cities, they are not treated with even ba­sic re­spect, let alone love and care,” said Liu.

In 2011, Liu sold his house and car, with all the money he had, rented an in­dus­trial com­plex in Guangzhou. He spent eight months ren­o­vat­ing the empty build­ing, which once had served as a fac­tory for Col­gate Pal­mo­live. Grad­u­ally he trans­formed the place into a mod­ern youth com­mu­nity, for itin­er­ant youth who have aban­doned their home­towns to seek their for­tunes in the big cities.

The pi­o­neer of the rental hos­tel model made the head­line in 2014, when You+ at­tracted fund­ing of 100 mil­lion yuan ($15 mil­lion) from Lei Jun, founder of Xiaomi smart phone, a man widely ac­claimed as China’s Steve Jobs.

Liu Yang con­tends that You+ is a base where young peo­ple can start to work out their dreams. “There are lawyers, geeks, en­trepreneurs of var­ied sec­tors all live un­der the same roof. Re­sources are connected and op­ti­mized, it is a valu­able as­set crit­i­cal for young peo­ple’s de­vel­op­ment.”

Gu echoed that one of his en­tre­pre­neur ten­ants, who works at an ed­u­ca­tion agency, al­ready raised a seed fund amount­ing to mil­lions of Hong Kong dol­lars.

Busi­ness is rid­ing high for Gu and his part­ners. They want to ex­pand but the cost of rent­ing new ac­com­mo­da­tion is a de­ter­rent.

You+ sets up shop in derelict in­dus­trial com­plexes. That’s not al­lowed in Hong Kong. Se­cur­ing build­ings or en­tire floors of ex­ist­ing units is the great­est chal­lenge, he says.

The fact that they are forced to de­velop in res­i­den­tial build­ings pushes up the costs. A 5- to 8-squareme­ter room in M³’s Sham Shui Po com­mu­nity av­er­ages HK$4500 a month. For around the same price, ten­ants at You+ can rent a 15-squareme­ter bed­room in Bei­jing. Some You+ com­mu­ni­ties of­fer pub­lic com­mons up to 2,000 square me­ters.

Both Liu and Gu men­tion that even with high de­mand, the com­mu­ni­ties barely turn a profit once costs are fac­tored in. What keeps them go­ing is the sat­is­fac­tion of giv­ing other young peo­ple an op­por­tu­nity to live com­fort­ably and re­al­ize their dreams.

It is hard to ex­plain the love and care chem­istry un­der the roof, Gu said, but some­times ten­ants may re­ceive an un­ex­pected de­liv­ery of flow­ers. Un­like other apart­ments where there are too many taboos in the com­mu­ni­ties, there is a gar­den where ten­ants can smoke. Pets are also wel­come.

Liu re­counted when one of his ten­ants was im­mo­bile for a few months due to a leg in­jury, a fe­male ten­ant at­tended to him, brought him dif­fer­ent food every day and signed on his casts. The young cou­ple just regis­tered for mar­riage.

“I have been served as a mar­riage wit­ness for my ten­ants around 20 times, where to find a bet­ter land­lord than me?” Liu hap­pily ques­tioned in the in­ter­view.

Gu dis­closed that thanks to the new fund­ing, M³ is work­ing on two more shops this year, set to bring more dream hatch­eries for young peo­ple in the city.

Con­tact the writer at eve­lyn@chi­nadai­lyhk.com

We all say young peo­ple are the hope of fu­ture, but when it comes to rent­ing, when young peo­ple are try­ing to make their way in big cities, they are not treated with even ba­sic re­spect, let alone love and care.”

Liu Yang, co-founder of You+ In­ter­na­tional Youth Com­mu­nity

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