Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Cramped Living

Investigators still don't know for sure what caused last week's blaze on Fa Yuen Street. While there is no evidence to prove it was cause by arson, the police are not ruling it out entirely.

And while there are calls for the government to put an end to subdivided flats, there is still a growing demand for them.

"Half of the tenants of subdivided flats are young adults who want to save money for private flats and cut their transportation costs," said property agent Daniel Lee Chin-fung, founder of, which offers somewhat attractively designed subdivided flats for rent. "Joe" sounds like the Cantonese word for "rent".

He said the availability of partitioned flats in Sham Shui Po and Cheung Sha Wan had fallen sharply in the last few months from 30 to only a handful.

"Demand is rising rapidly but owners have withheld some of their flats from the market after the government stepped up action on subdivided flats because of safety issues," he said.

The Buildings Department is about to issue removal orders to owners of affected buildings where the fire broke out, particularly those who blocked staircases when dividing flats to increase the number of rentals. The department will also inspect more than 300 buildings throughout the city in the next six months.

And because of the crackdown, rents for these subdivided flats have risen 20 to 30 percent, from HK$2,500 to over HK$5,000 ($322-$643). In that case one can get a legitimate tiny studio for the higher rent.

However, there are many prospective tenants who are looking for upmarket subdivided flats and apparently they do exist.

Videos on Lee's website show flats of about 150 square feet to 230 square feet, with wooden panel floors. They are dubbed "Japanese houses" as the bedroom, living room are divided by a semi-transparent screen and have an "open kitchen" with a sink and range hood.

These flats can go for HK$3,600 to HK$5,000 compared to those with minimal renovation for HK$2,000.

People looking for these kinds of flats are around 30 years old, says Lee, with diverse backgrounds, high school graduates, university and even managers.

Poon Wing-cheung, a real estate professor at City University says the city's limited upward mobility had resulted in a new social class, who have completed tertiary education but earned low salaries.

"They can't afford private flats, but at the same time do not qualify for public housing; they are a group being neglected by our housing policy," Poon said.

This is a sad trend we are seeing in Hong Kong -- people who cannot move up the food chain. We don't know if these people are hardworking or they aren't as ambitious. The fact that they are choosing to live this way shows their budgets are extremely tight.

Regardless, the government should make public housing more available to those who need it. This affects our quality of life, not only mentally but also physically and the society as a whole.

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