Short-term fixes forshortage in pipeline

Overseas Education | 11 Jan 2018

Soaring property prices have pushed tens of thousands of families in Hong Kong into tiny, partitioned apartments, sparking calls for creative solutions, including converting shipping containers and even water pipes into temporary homes.

The former British colony - one of the most densely populated places on Earth, where individual, caged beds offer the only living space for some of the very poor - has seen home prices shatter historic records for 12 consecutive months.

In November, an apartment sold for HK$132,060 per square foot, making it the most expensive unit on a per-square-foot basis in Asia.

This has forced some 200,000 individuals into tiny partitioned flats that measure a mere 62 square feet on the average.

Government figures released yesterday show the number of households having to make do with "inadequate housing," including partitioned flats and industrial buildings, surged 9 percent to 115,000 this year.

Hong Kong had won praise for a post-war program that put hundreds of thousands into public housing and cleared hillsides of precarious, fire-prone squatter villages, but demand has since outstripped supply, inspiring ideas for short-term solutions.

Concrete water pipes - some measuring 2 meters in diameter - could be converted into a 120-square-foot mini-apartment for two, complete with a shower and toilet, according to architect James Law.

They could be stacked between the SAR's highrises and utilize space otherwise going to waste, Law said, adding he was seeking government approval.

Demand for shipping container homes has surged, with one manufacturer, Markbox, saying demand had doubled in the past year.

Online advertisements for converted containers, which are legal to build but illegal to live in, command monthly rents of HK$3,000 to HK$5,000.

The SAR government has said it will continue to tackle the housing shortage, and is exploring different forms of "transitional housing."

Non-governmental groups say while pipes and containers could provide temporary reprieve, they cannot be the solution.

"We welcome any possibilities to speed up the provision of temporary housing," said Lai Kin-kwok, convener of Platform Concerning Subdivided Flats in Hong Kong. "But I want to stress these can only be short-term arrangements. Ultimately the government must speed up the construction of public housing."

Private home prices rose by 1.08 percent in November, marking the fastest pace of growth in six months, according to the latest data compiled by the Rating and Valuation Department. The index, which began its climb in April 2016, surged 13.1 percent year on year.

The SAR's flats are ranked the second most expensive in the world after Monaco, according to property consultancy Knight Frank, which shows US$1 million (HK$7.8 million) would only buy 200 sq ft of prime property in Hong Kong, compared to 270 sq ft in New York, or 320 sq ft in London.

"Property prices are high, and unaffordable for most ordinary people," said Thomas Lam, a senior director with Knight Frank. "But right now, I cannot see any major factor that will drastically bring down property prices in the short run."

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said last month the government "has no way to curb property prices," adding that while she would do her best to seek more land to boost supply, she has never promised to turn around the price rises.


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