Fifteen square foot “coffin cubicle” homes. Caged rooms made out of wired mesh. The residents of Lucky House, mostly retirees and the poor, aren’t so lucky after all. This claustrophobic reality is also mirrored for the 7.3 million middle-class families who live in subdivided apartment units, where a single flat is partitioned into four or more: a blatant fire hazard. Hong Kong, the world’s least affordable city, has a housing crisis to manage. The rise in population and a chronic shortage of land has compelled the government to look for an extra 1,200 hectares. However, they can only identify such space in environmentally-protected areas.
In order to solve the housing crisis temporarily, Hong Kong must look at creative solutions, such as reconstructing neglected space and encourage co-living, instead of relying on the government’s improbable venture for extra land.
A History Of Overcrowding
During the Chinese Civil War, millions of refugees from mainland China settled in squatter settlements. Rudimentary homes built of wood and steel sheets, these shantytowns were abundant in Hong Kong’s outskirts. However, a fire in Shek Kip Mei quickly left 53,000 homeless. The Public Works Department, in response, established a permanent housing program. Currently, the Hong Kong Housing Authority maintains control over government-funded housing units. A disadvantage for those whose income doesn’t meet the threshold, the Housing Authority rejects most applicants– inducing middle-class families to live in cramped subdivided apartments. In addition, those who qualify have to wait for an average of 3.6 years for the government to parcel out a flat. The only option in the meantime is to rent a subdivided unit and take multiple part-time jobs or live on the streets.
A Global Phenomena
The housing crisis isn’t solely confined to Hong Kong. From Vancouver to Mumbai, the search for a permanent remedy to fix sky-high prices has been fruitless.
To put it simply, real estate is a global industry. Private equity firms and corporations are the key players in this lucrative market, purchasing more than a $1 trillion worth of land in cities. The money poured into real estate is spent on “ultra-high-end units that are expensive to produce” instead of generating more supply (more homes) for the rising population. According to the United Nation, if a portion of this money is invested in affordable homes, housing for lower and middle-class families can be within an arm’s reach by 2030. But because housing is treated as a commodity and companies want to accumulate more wealth, solutions to the housing crisis instead have to be formulated by entrepreneurs.
With an expanding population and far too little territory, the demand for residential space is at an all-time high. But architect James Law has proposed a solution. Leftover pipes from construction sites are turned into 100 square foot living spaces called O-Pods. Because concrete pipes are ubiquitous in Hong Kong, they can be easily transformed into curved-wall homes that are cheap, well-lit, and mass producible. Law adds that O-Pods “utilize space [that] otherwise goes to waste”, either between the city’s high rises or underground. Unlike shipping container homes, O-Pods won’t become ovens during the summer, making them suitable for habituation.
The next solution involves Hong Kong millennials, who are seeking cheap city housing, as they can also take note of “co-living”, or communal living – a trend popular in Oakland and London. Young IT professionals can share a single-person apartment with other like-minded peers and pay HK$2,800 a bed per month. Though this price tag is appalling, it is cheaper than the alternative: renting a flat that averages around HK$10,000 per month. Located in the city, but appealing to the millennial, flats used for co-living have basic amenities and modern interior designs.
There are other creative fixes, like building artificial islands off the coast of Hong Kong or living on cruise liners. However, they are a pipe dream for most.
Though they aren’t a panacea, group apartments and O-Pods are affordable and breathable – two words that Hongkongers are desperate to hear.
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