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Hong Kong housing

Government must provide temporary housing for families in Hong Kong’s ‘coffin homes’, concern group says

Rent increases for people living in rooms the size of a ping-pong table create an urgent need for city officials to find a solution, Subdivided Flats Concerning Platform in Hong Kong says      

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 April, 2018, 7:42pm
UPDATED : Monday, 30 April, 2018, 12:23am

Vacant schools or other idle sites in Hong Kong should be used to build temporary housing for families living in the city’s so-called coffin homes, a concern group said on Sunday.

Coffin homes, or “caged homes”, are subdivided flats that derive their name from their cramped quarters. The typical living area for each tenant is 45 square feet – about the size of a ping-pong table – according to Subdivided Flats Concerning Platform in Hong Kong, which conducted a recent study on coffin homes. 

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Even the cost of coffin homes is increasing in the world’s most expensive housing market, as the study found that families were spending 36.3 per cent of household income on rent, up from 33.9 per cent a year ago. 

As the government begins a five-month public consultation to gather information on ways to increase the city’s land supply for housing developments, the group’s convenor, Lai Kin-kwok, said people living in coffin homes could not afford to wait that long.

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“Those squeezed in subdivided units don’t have the luxury of waiting for the government to arrange more debates on land supply to fix the housing problem,” Lai said. He urged officials to use sites to build temporary housing, adding: “A wait of one day is already very long for them.”

Conducted between January and March, the study covered 68 families living in subdivided cubicles in Kwun Tong, Tsuen Wan, Hung Hom, and Kwai Chung.

The average size of a subdivided unit was about 130 sq ft, with rent averaging HK$4,500 (US$575) a month, according to the study. In one extreme case, a family of four in Kwun Tong was paying HK$7,800 a month for a subdivided cubicle of about 160 square feet, which was more than half of the family’s income.

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There is no legal definition in Hong Kong for a subdivided flat. But the term is commonly used to described cases where one flat is partitioned into two or more self-contained cubicles. Many of the conversions are carried out illegally, but they are often the only option for poor families, especially those waiting for public housing.

According to official estimates, in 2016 there were about 210,000 people living in such subdivided units.

It was revealed in March that the Housing Authority would sell some 2,500 units in Sham Shui Po that were originally allocated for needy families on the waiting list. The authority maintained it would not seriously affect the supply of rental housing and estimated the move would only make those on the waiting list wait 11 days longer.

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Applicants for public housing rose from 199,600 in July 2012 to about 283,000 last December. The average waiting time for a public housing flat was 4.7 years, up from 2.7 years in 2012.