Hong Kong housing

How small is too small? The trend towards micro flats is disturbing

If developers keep pushing the limits and building ever smaller dwellings, it would only fuel calls for the government to introduce statutory regulations on minimum living space

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 November, 2016, 1:03am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 November, 2016, 1:03am

Just how tiny Hong Kong flats can become is seemingly limited only by the imagination. In what appears to be a disturbing trend, the market is being flushed with increasingly smaller units. The latest basic living space approved by government planners is just 61 sq ft. Together with toilet and kitchen facilities, the flat may measure around 120 sq ft, or roughly the size of a parking space. There is literally no room to swing a cat.

The city already made international headlines two years ago with new flats as small as 170 sq ft in the New Territories. The size shrank further this summer with a housing project in North Point offering 150 sq ft units. The latest development by Emperor International Holdings in Happy Valley is even smaller. With just 61 sq ft of living area, it is said to be smaller than the size of a cell in Stanley prison.

How much space a household needs is of course open to debate. If figures compiled by international agencies are any guide, houses in Australia and the US are above 2,100 sq ft on average. Recently, some Americans have been advocating a simpler lifestyle in small living environment– the so-called tiny house movement. While there is currently no set definition of what constitutes a tiny house, a unit under 500 sq ft generally fits the criterion. Not only does home ownership become more affordable, it is also considered to be more eco-friendly in terms of the use of energy and resources. Given our residential units are typically of that size, the movement can, sarcastically, be said to have taken root here a long time ago.

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The shrinking size of local flats has of course nothing to do with the movement. What makes it ironic is that what is seen as alternative and fashionable elsewhere is sadly the harsh reality that Hongkongers have to live with. Worse, it is imposed by profit-minded property developers without intervention.

As housing supply remains insufficient and property prices soar, one way is to reduce the size to keep flats within the reach of buyers. According to government projections, the ratio of two-person households is projected to increase from 25.2 per cent in 2011 to 29 per cent in a decade, while the proportion of five-person households is set to fall from 12.2 per cent to 9.8 per cent in the same period. It can therefore be argued that the emergence of shoebox units is just a response to market needs.

That said, a flat no bigger than the size of a parking space is clearly unacceptable for an affluent city like Hong Kong. If developers keep pushing the limits, it will only fuel calls for the government to introduce statutory regulation on flat sizes.