Hong Kong cannot afford to carry on living with even smaller homes
So-called nano flats may be suitable for singles but, in an ageing society that wants people to have children, they only make rival cities more attractive
With the government about to launch a public consultation on housing land supply for the decades to come, the exercise has been given timely context by the incredible shrinking living spaces that define an affordability crisis.
A think tank, the Our Hong Kong Foundation established by former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, predicts the average flat size will contract further in the next five years, with units measuring less than 430 sq ft expected to account for 45 per cent of private housing supply in 2019, and flat sizes nearly 20 per cent smaller than in the previous 10 years.
Shrinking flat sizes have crystallised the city’s dilemma. Evidence of this is to be found in reactions by those in government.
One example is an official’s advice last year not to buy nano flats because they might be difficult to resell. If heeded, that would add to an egregious element of the housing crisis – the large stock of unsold flats.
Another is the housing minister’s rejection of calls to set a minimum size of flats because such intervention could make flats unaffordable to some aspiring buyers and more expensive to others.
Smaller flats do meet a demand from singles who are leaving home and want their own homes without the traditional ties of a relationship or children. There is also the logic that such flats meet the needs of smaller modern households.
But shrinkage is ultimately no way forward for an ageing society that needs to attract – and hold – talent and encourage people to have children.
In that respect, we should be working instead towards bigger flats and better lifestyles, instead of shrinking flats and higher prices.
Free-market principles rule out the regulation of minimum flat sizes. Just talking about land supply will not solve the problem.
Beginning with consultation, innovative and visionary thinking is required to ensure that planning does not perpetuate it, and widen unflattering comparisons with living spaces in other advanced Asian cities.
In the long term, the trend towards smaller flats will undermine any ability to provide affordable, decent housing to everyone in Hong Kong and only make rival cities look more attractive.