Thinking outside the box to ease Hong Kong's housing crisis

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong’s soaring property prices have pushed tens of thousands of families into tiny, partitioned apartments, sparking calls for creative solutions, including converting shipping containers and even water pipes into temporary homes.

The former British colony, one of the most densely populated places on Earth where individual, caged beds offer the only living space for some of the very poor, has seen home prices shatter historic records for 12 straight months.

In November, an apartment sold for HK$132,060 ($16,915) per square foot, making it the most expensive apartment per square foot in Asia.

This has forced some 200,000 individuals into tiny partitioned flats, averaging a mere 62 square feet (six square meters).

Government figures released on Wednesday show the number of households living in “inadequate housing”, including partitioned flats and industrial buildings, surged nine percent to 115,000 this year.

Hong Kong had won praise for a post-war program that put hundreds of thousands into public housing and cleared hillsides of precarious, fire-prone squatter villages, but demand has since outstripped supply, inspiring ideas for short-term solutions.

Concrete water pipes - some measuring 2.5 meters in diameter - could be converted into a 120-square-feet mini-apartment for two, complete with a shower and a toilet, according to architect James Law.

Slideshow ( 6 images )

They could be stacked between the city’s highrises and utilize space otherwise going to waste, Law said, adding that he was seeking government approval.

Demand for shipping container homes has surged, with one manufacturer, Markbox, saying demand had doubled in the past year.

Online advertisements for converted containers, which are legal to build but illegal to live in, tout monthly rents of HK$3,000 to HK$5,000.

The government in the Chinese-ruled city has said it will continue to tackle the housing shortage and that it is exploring different forms of “transitional housing”.

Non-governmental groups say while pipes and containers could provide temporary reprieve, they cannot be the solution.

“We welcome any possibilities to speed up the provision of temporary housing,” said Lai Kin-kwok, convener of Platform Concerning Subdivided Flats in Hong Kong.

“But I want to stress these can only be short-term arrangements. Ultimately the government must speed up the construction of public housing.”

Additional Reporting by Venus Wu; Editing by James Pomfret and Nick Macfie