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Hong Kong housing

10,000 more Hongkongers call subdivided units home, study shows

A disproportionate number of young people live in the tiny cubicles, and rents keep creeping up

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 January, 2018, 9:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 January, 2018, 10:37am

Nearly 10,000 more Hongkongers are calling subdivided units their home and the number of such cramped spaces in the city is climbing too, a government study showed on Thursday.

But the 210,000 people so confined did not include residents of “caged homes” – bunk bed spaces for single tenants – and a veteran social worker estimated that figure would add another 40,000 to the grim statistic.

Rents for the tiny cubicles also went up for the third straight year: the median monthly rent in 2016 stood at HK$4,500 (US$575), up from HK$4,200 in 2015 and HK$3,800 in 2014.

Since 2014, the Census and Statistics Department has compiled an annual report on the city’s subdivided households.

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The 2016 report revealed that 209,700 people were crammed into 92,700 rooms subdivided from 27,100 flats. Hong Kong’s current population is 7.34 million.

The preponderance of these units – 30 per cent – are occupied by a single person, but 15 per cent housed four people or more.

A disproportionate number of young people were living in these subdivided units, with about 70 per cent of the residents aged below 44. Of the units, more than half are located in Kowloon, with the most in Yau Tsim Mong District, an ageing neighbourhood with vast stretches of tenement blocks.

At HK$4,500, the median rent for these cubicles consumes on average 32 per cent of the household’s monthly income.

Caged homes are even worse off ... the real situation could be more dire
Sze Lai-shan, Society for Community Organisation

But Sze Lai-shan, a veteran social worker with the Society for Community Organisation serving the city’s underprivileged, said it was meaningless to look only at this percentage.

“If you earn HK$50,000 a month, you still have quite a lot to spend after using 30 per cent of your income to pay the rent,” she said. “But these people have hardly anything left as most of their wages are already used to cover essential spending.”

The latest survey was conducted as part of a citywide census programme. It used a slightly different methodology than the previous editions.

The 2016 study, for example, looked at all existing residential buildings, while the previous ones only covered blocks that were 25 years or older.

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The definition has also changed as to what constitutes a subdivided flat. The current study did not include households sharing a living room within a flat, instead calling them “multi-households within a unit of quarters”.

Sze said it was likely there were up to 250,000 people living locally in squalid conditions.

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“Caged homes are even worse off, but they are not part of the tally in this report so the real situation could be more dire,” she added.

Unless the government considers more drastic measures such as rent control or a levy for unoccupied units, Sze expected the issue would persist in the years to come.