Waiting list for cramped container homes

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 April, 2010, 12:00am

Housing prices never seem to stop rising in the Pearl River Delta, especially in Shenzhen.

With average housing prices in the city approaching 20,000 yuan (HK$22,700) per square metre, white-collar workers are resigned to decades as 'house slaves' while they pay off their mortgages.

Meanwhile, affordable accommodation options are hard to find for those on lower incomes.

Some share a two-bedroom apartment with 10 or more roommates, and some live in cheap but illegal inns. And some have even transformed shipping containers into a place to live.

Recent leasing advertisements in districts such as Baoan, Longgang and Yantian featuring clusters of temporary apartments made from containers have proved popular with poorer residents.

The text of the ads is simple: 'Habitable container for lease, six yuan per day'.

The standard size of these containers is three metres by six metres, and they come with windows, plumbing, electrical wiring and insulation.

'Business is good. If you order now, you have to wait at least six days, since we already have more than 40 orders on hand,' said Zhang Musheng , the owner of a trading company, who saw the market potential four years ago and began converting containers into housing.

'Before, most of the containers we sold were occupied by construction workers. Some of them were also used as bus drivers' rest stops or offices for small companies.

'Now, a number of them are even being sold or rented as apartments.'

On construction sites and vacant land, tucked behind freeways or close to expensive high-rises, container homes are easy to find.

Yang Fuping , a migrant worker from Yunnan , has lived with other workers from his hometown in 13 containers near a construction site in Buji, Longgang, for 18 months. There are five bunk beds in each of 12 of the containers, while one serves as a kitchen.

'There are water pipes here but no toilet,' he said. 'We have to find our own way to solve this problem outside.'

Yang said the construction site's labour contractor rented the containers to them, with each one costing six yuan a day.

'I share the rent with eight or nine other people,' he said. 'Rented housing nearby usually costs at least 400 yuan a month per person.

'Living in a container is much cheaper. But it's certainly not comfortable. In summer, it's steamy and hot. In winter it's cold. There are lots of mosquitoes and bugs. It's noisy day and night.

'In heavy rain, we are afraid of leaks. When there's a typhoon, we live in fear of the container being blown away.'

However, Yang said he had no plans to move out.

'The construction project will be finished soon. But all of us have decided to keep living here,' he said. 'The containers help us to save more money while the cost of living keeps rising.'

Construction workers were not the only ones living in containers in Shenzhen, Yang said.

'Some young men came last month and asked if they could live with us,' he said. 'They said they were graduates from western provinces and had been in Shenzhen looking for jobs for months without success.

'They told us they rented a 10 square metre room in an urban village. The rent, water and electricity cost them nearly 700 yuan a month, and they had almost run out of money.

'We may let them in if someone moves out. They can work downtown in the day and return to the container home at night.'

While living in a container is economical, you need to find a plot of vacant land and make sure the government will leave you alone for a while. Local governments have never been tolerant of such accommodation for low-income migrants, despite soaring housing prices.

'Many media have contacted us since they heard of our advertisement,' one landlord said.

'At first, I was happy and thought it was a kind of promotion for my business. But now I'm starting to worry that the government's dismantling teams will come around if internet users raise its profile.'

Apparently, the container homes are not conducive to Shenzhen's goal of becoming a world-class developed city.