According to the U.S. house-and-home media, tiny house-living is trending big. In Hong Kong, tiny homes have been the way of life for many for decades! A population of 7.2 million people squeezed into 426 square miles.
However, things have reached a new (small) record in Hong Kong - a developer is planning to market spaces as homes on the island’s Happy Valley district that are not much bigger than shoeboxes!
The developer, Emperor International Holdings, plans to convert an existing 21-storey commercial building into 68 “apartments,” each at 61.4 square feet, except for four larger ones, measuring 121.6 square feet each. However, the filing with the Building Department does mention that the 61.4 square feet excludes kitchen and bathroom space. According to a Hong Kong valuation and consultant firm, even accounting for additional kitchen and bathroom space, the Emperor apartments “will still be the smallest flats in Hong Kong.” (For comparison, the average cell at Hong Kong’s Stanley Prison is 81 square feet.)
Hong Kong property prices have always ranked high globally. In January, its housing market was named “the least affordable in the world” for the sixth year in a row. The average price of private housing has risen by a staggering 47.4 percent from July 2012 to October 2016.
Not only are prices astronomical, demand is also. In July 2014, Cheung Kong Development listed 196 micro-flats of just under 200 square feet per unit for approximately USD 250,000-260,000 each. They received 4,200 applications from buyers who did not even have a model to look at.
Recent surges have made average home prices way beyond the reach of most average salary earners – the median home costs 19 times the median annual pretax income. In response, developers have scaled back on the size of the units, making tiny apartments trend large. To date, the previous “tiny” record was a 152-square-foot unit, which included balcony space, selling for more than USD 558,000.
As many as 5,000 of these micro flats are projected to be in the pipeline annually until 2019, according to Jones Lang LaSalle, a global realty company with large a Hong Kong presence.
Apartment sizes vary greatly in Hong Kong.
Owner-occupied apartments range from ones smaller than the public housing units, which average at 215-650 square feet, to supersized 6,000-SF luxury condos of the wealthy elites. However, statistics indicate almost 90 percent of households live in homes under 700 square feet. Nowadays, though, most Hong Kong families of four live in units smaller than 500 square feet of space.
It is also not uncommon for Hong Kongers to share living quarters with non-relatives. In fact, many families crowd into tiny apartment bedrooms, sharing kitchens and bathroom (note singular – not many HK flats have more than one bathroom!) with other families. Self-restraint would be imperative in order to keep the peace! The private space of this type of living arrangement averages 150 SF. And these families may consider themselves the lucky ones. There are many individuals who occupy a “private” space no bigger than their beds. In 2016, it is estimated that at least 200,000 extreme low-income residents live in “cage homes,” bunk beds encased in wire meshes to protect their belongings within.
An enterprising landlord started renting out 24-SF “space capsules” for USD 660 a month! They are probably modeled after Japan’s “capsule hotels,” but I wager they’re nowhere near their Japanese counterparts in terms of cleanliness. In all fairness, the rent does include water, electricity, and Wi-Fi. The water feature is curious, though. Sink? Toilet? Faucet? Bottled water?
However, the “tiniest” development in Happy Valley are aimed at those with cash resources. They may buy these “gnat flats” as they are often called, but can always count on big ideas from designers to elevate their tiny spaces. Ingenious, multifunction furniture and spaces can make tiny living quite efficient and comfortable for those who can afford it.
One such designer from Hong Kong, Gary Chang, is at the top of the micro-flat game. Chang grew up in a 344-SF flat with his parents and three siblings. It was partitioned into three bedrooms, a bathroom and a kitchen. He used to sleep in the hallway while his parents and siblings occupied two of the three bedrooms. The third bedroom was rented out to a family!
These days, Chang still lives there (on his own now), but has completely transformed that space into a studio apartment by installing a sliding wall system mounted on ceiling tracks and rollers. Every “room” uses the entire floor area to maximize space. Moving the “walls” reveals a walk-in closet on the other side, a full-sized bathtub (which also doubles as guest bed when not in use as a tub) and, at the other end of the apartment, a kitchen, and a wall-mounted television. He also designed a big screen that drops down in front of his floor-to-ceiling windows for big-screen entertainment. There is even a hammock suspended on industrial hooks where he can lounge! Not too shabby.
Sad to say, Chang’s tiny living experience is not the norm. Few Hong Kongers can afford the amount it takes to renovate and transform their spaces as he did; that is, if they even had a space to call their own.
It is not easy to reconcile the luxurious tiny flats with the subdivided “cage homes” in this world metropolis. The haves and the have-nots live on. Will the Hong Kong government be able to solve this problem, and by when?