Hong Kong News

Nonpartisan, Noncommercial, unconstrained.
Wednesday, Feb 01, 2023

Break Hong Kong’s ‘shoebox curse’ before everyone leaves

Break Hong Kong’s ‘shoebox curse’ before everyone leaves

It’s time to break the ‘shoebox curse’ and give Hong Kong people proper housing. They can no longer be fooled; no matter whether it’s in a middle-class or working-class area, a ‘shoebox flat’ is not decent housing. .

It’s no surprise to see that, for the third year in a row, Hong Kong ranks as the world’s most expensive city in which to live – ahead of New York, Geneva, London and Tokyo.

Although the survey by software company ECA International is intended for expatriates, this doesn’t mean that Hong Kong is any less expensive for locals.

The only difference is that they have the option to seek out public housing or stay with their parents to save money.

Considering that the current median monthly wage is HK$18,400 (US$2,300) and the median monthly household income is HK$28,700, it’s no wonder that Hongkongers are fleeing the city in search of greener pastures. (Of course, there are many other reasons for the exodus.)

A woman walks past a property agent’s window in Hong Kong. To buy the cheapest flat in Hong Kong would require saving every cent you earned for at least nine years (no eating).

Although the wages seem promising in a city that has affordable daily necessities, such as a “two-dish-rice” meal box for as little as HK$25, sky-high rents account for over a third of one’s net income.

A friend once told me that you won’t go hungry in Hong Kong but it’s easy to become homeless.

If a single person wants to buy a HK$2 million flat, which is likely to be in decrepit condition, it will take them at least nine years to save up (and that’s without eating or enjoying other basic amenities).

For a couple, it would take at least 12 years to save HK$4 million to buy a 400 sq ft (37 square metre) property in a suburban district in the New Territories. And once again, this would only be possible if they set aside 100 per cent of their combined household income – in other words, impossible.

Some have chosen to move to China to start afresh; those who prefer a more Westernised lifestyle are looking at countries like Portugal. The Western European country has become a popular destination for Hong Kong retirees because of its low cost of living, desirable climate and the familiar Macau connection.

A residential building in Sham Shui Po, the city’s poorest district. Hong Kong has not really improved its housing since the 1950s.

For €600,000 (around US$630,000), a similar amount to the sum they would have to invest in a shoebox flat in Hong Kong, a family of four can get a 2,000 sq ft, four-bedroom flat with a panoramic view and a garage in a sought-after Portuguese neighbourhood.

Hong Kong people are stellar citizens who are generally educated, hard-working, law-abiding, resourceful and resilient. I am sure that many host countries would welcome emigrating Hongkongers with open arms.

Sadly, the standard of Hong Kong housing does not match the calibre of its residents.

We have read more than our fair share of news reporting on subdivided flats and suites and how expensive these little spaces are, despite their undesirable conditions.

For example, a typical subdivided flat – averaging 120 sq ft – costs at least HK$6,000 per month to rent, maybe more depending on the district.

It is estimated that 280,000 people, most of whom are unemployed, new immigrants or low-income families, live in these units.

A woman in her 50 sq ft cubicle flat in a walk-up building apartment that has been subdivided into six cubicles.

As dire as this sounds for a city as seemingly modern as Hong Kong, the situation has shown some signs of improvement in the past decade. Nowadays, there are subdivided units that go for more than HK$10,000 per month, but at least they are not in dank tenement buildings.

These improved units now attract tenants who are not low-income earners, but rather professionals looking for comfortable and affordable rentals.

But the bigger picture is that Hong Kong has not really improved its housing since the 1950s, as the oft-reported housing shortage has yet to be addressed.

Back then, a large flat would be divided into several cubicles by plywood walls. Tenants were usually white-collar workers and, although they shared a common room, toilet and kitchen, these units were clean and well maintained. It may not have been ideal, but it was a suitable short-term solution for those who were still unable to afford to rent or buy a more private home.

Decades on, the city’s population has exploded 10-fold and the city’s housing shortage remains unresolved.

Come to think of it, there is not much difference between living in a subdivided unit in Sham Shui Po, the city’s poorest district, and one in the Mid-Levels on Hong Kong Island in terms of square footage. The ones in the Mid-Levels might be a bit bigger, more sanitary, include better fittings and be situated in a better neighbourhood; but the bottom line is that it’s just another shoebox – albeit a more polished one.

A typical subdivided flat costs at least HK$6,000 per month to rent, maybe more depending on the district.

Hongkongers can no longer be fooled. No matter how you dress it up, the standard of living is well below par and continues to dip as the cost of living continues to climb; it is simply untenable.

Hong Kong is a first-class city with first-class citizens. It’s time to break the “shoebox curse” and finally deliver some real, long overdue first-class housing.

Otherwise, Hong Kong’s first-class citizens will have no choice but to move elsewhere – and there is no shortage of cities that would be more than happy to welcome these people.


Related Articles

Hong Kong News
WARNING GRAPHIC CONTENT - US Memphis Police murdering innocent Tyre Nichols
Almost 30% of professionals say they've tried ChatGPT at work
Interpol seeks woman who ran elaborate exam cheating scam in Singapore
Chinese search giant Baidu to launch ChatGPT like AI chatbot.
What is ChatGPT?
Bill Gates is ‘very optimistic’ about the future: ‘Better to be born 20 years from now...than any time in the past’
China is opening up for foreign investors.
Tesla reported record profits and record revenues for 2022
Prince Andrew and Virginia Giuffre Photo Is Fake: Ghislaine Maxwell
Moonwalker Buzz Aldrin Gets Married On His 93rd Birthday
Federal Reserve Probes Goldman’s Consumer Business
China's first population drop in six decades
Microsoft is finalising plans to become the latest technology giant to reduce its workforce during a global economic slowdown
China's foreign ministry branch in Hong Kong urges British gov't to stop the biased and double standards Hong Kong report
China relaxes 'red lines' on property sector borrowing in policy pivot
Tesla slashes prices globally by as much as 20 percent
Japan prosecutors indict man for ex-PM Shinzo Abe murder
Vietnam removes two deputy PMs amid anti-corruption campaign
1.4 Million Copies Of Prince Harry's Memoir 'Spare' Sold On 1st Day In UK
After Failing To Pay Office Rent, Twitter May Sell User Names
FIFA president questioned by prosecutors
Britain's Sunak breaks silence and admits using private healthcare
Hype and backlash as Harry's memoir goes on sale. Unnamed royal source says prince 'kidnapped by cult of psychotherapy and Meghan'
China’s recovery could add 1% to Australia’s GDP: JPMorgan 
Saudi Arabia set to overtake India as fastest-growing major economy this year 
China vows to strengthen financial support for enterprises: official
International medical experts speak out against COVID-19 restrictions on China
2 Billion People To Travel In China's "Great Migration" Over Next 40 Days
Google and Facebook’s dominance in digital ads challenged by rapid ascent of Amazon and TikTok
Flight constraints expected to weigh on China travel rebound
Billionaire Jack Ma relinquishes control of Ant Group
FTX fraud investigators are digging deeper into Sam Bankman-Fried's inner circle – and reportedly have ex-engineer Nishad Singh in their sights
Teslas now over 40% cheaper in China than US
TikTok CEO Plans to Meet European Union Regulators
UK chaos: Hong Kong emigrants duped by false prospectus
China seeks course correction in US ties but will fight ‘all forms of hegemony’, top diplomat Wang Yi says
China will boost spending in 2023
African traders welcome end of China’s Covid travel curbs
France has banned the online sale of paracetamol until February, citing ongoing supply issues
Japan reportedly to give families 1 million yen per child to move out of Tokyo
Will Canada ever become a real democracy?
Hong Kong property brokerages slash payrolls in choppy market
U.S. Moves to Seize Robinhood Shares, Silvergate Accounts Tied to FTX
Effect of EU sanctions on Moscow is ‘less than zero’ – Belgian MEP
Coinbase to Pay $100 Million in Settlement With New York Regulator
Preparations begin for Spring Festival travel rush
Domestic COVID-19 drug effective in trial
HK to see a full recovery, John Lee says in New Year message
Bargain hunters flock to last day of Hong Kong brands and products expo
Hong Kong aims for January 8 reopening of border with mainland China