Chinese housing market

Co-living becomes short-term affordable housing option for young Hongkongers 

New projects such as Bibliotheque, SynBOX and Mini Ocean Park Station have emerged mainly to serve students and young professionals struggling to rent decent-sized flats for around US$1,280/month

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 February, 2018, 7:15am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 February, 2018, 11:33am

Co-living is being embraced in many Asian cities by younger workers, particularly from the IT sector, with operators able to charge rents even higher than ordinary homes in many cases.

But in Hong Kong, the emerging sector is only still being viewed as a short-term solution to the city’s housing problem, offering affordable homes to those who could otherwise only afford to stay in the family home, share a rented flat or live in the city’s notorious subdivided flats, according to international property consultant JLL.

“For those locked out of the residential market, the emergence of the co-living model offers an affordable housing solution,” said Denis Ma, JLL’s head of research.

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New projects such as Bibliotheque, SynBOX and Mini Ocean Park Station have emerged mainly to serve students and young professionals struggling to rent decent-sized flats around the HK$10,000 (US$1,280) per month mark.

JLL says two forms particularly of co-living have prospered in Hong Kong. 

The first act just like student dorms with two or four tenants to one room, charging around HK$2,800 bed per month aimed at college students who seek lower rents without the hassles of traditional renting. The other provides more single-person rooms for young professionals with higher rentals and a promise to live with like-minded people.

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The savings can be dramatic. A bed in Hung Hom’s SynBOX, for instance, starts at HK$2,800 per month. In contrast, a rented 200-square-foot flat in The Met FOCUS nearby, costs HK$13,500, according to Centaline Property Agency.

Occupancy rates in co-living developments are proving strong, such as Eton Properties’ Mini Ocean Park Station in Shouson Hill – on the coast of Deep Water Bay on Hong Kong Island, currently sitting at 70 per cent, while Synergy’s Bibliotheque in Yau Ma Tei in Kowloon was 60 per cent.

Hong Kong’s housing market – now at an unenviable price-to-income ratio over 18 – ranks as the world’s least affordable city. And commentators only expect the situation to get worse for those who have been struggling to get their first feet onto the housing ladder.

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But those two clear gaps in the market being filled in Hong Kong’s co-living sector are proving different from what many saw as its original concept, which was based around a sense of community, where a group of like-minded people share a kitchen and lounge area, with or without their own rooms.

“I haven’t seen that community aspect in practice in Hong Kong though,” said Ma, who adds their expansion in mainland China, and elsewhere in Asia, are being driven by different forces. 

Yang Ji, vice-president of Guangzhou-based co-living operator Wowqu, says around 60 per cent of its tenants are in their twenties, “who spend nearly half their salaries on rent. They are truly unafraid to spend”.

His unit charges tenants 2,400 to 3,500 yuan (US$382–557) per month for one room, while a high-end studio in the city costing around 2,500 yuan – that is more than the monthly rent of nearly half of shared flats in Guangzhou last year, which cost individuals below 1,500 yuan each, recent statistics from Guangzhou Association of Real Estate Agents show. 

“Demand from millennials for co-living is huge in mainland China,” agreed Joe Zhou, head of Research, JLL China.

The whole co-living movement started emerging in China around 2012, with one of the earlier operators YOU+ International Youth Community in the southern city of Shezhen. By the end of 2016, there were nearly 90 operators spread across the country.

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Vanke Port Apartment, now one of the largest operators, manages more than 60,000 units, with YOU+ 16 sites, Mofang expanded to about 15,000 rooms, ZiRoom operating seven properties and Coming Space managing 10,000 rooms.

Inspired by the co-working phenomenon, some operators elsewhere in Asia, meanwhile, have placed work and lifestyle together under one roof. 

In India, for instance, JLL said there are four start-ups that focus purely on offering co-living in Gurgaon, southwest of the capital New Delhi, with two others already up and running in the technology hub city of Bangalore.

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