HK's small living spaces could be trendy too

City Life: Many Hong Kong people still prefer to find accommodation close to work despite rising property prices, leading to the proliferation of subdivided flats in older apartment blocks around the city.

This may sound cruel, but let the truth be told that Hong Kong salary earners will have to come to terms with the fact that housing prices are getting higher and living spaces are getting smaller.

Of course, they have a choice of moving to suburban areas and bearing the long and unpleasant commute to work every day. Despite property prices and residential rents having risen to levels fewer and fewer people can afford, many Hong Kong people still prefer to find accommodation close to work.

Such insistence has given rise to the proliferation of the much maligned and ridiculed subdivided flats in older apartment blocks around the city. The legality of these structures has been called into question time and time again. Sceptics have warned that the maze of partitions could trap residents in the premises should a fire break out.

The logical answer to the problem would be to build more small apartments for sale or rent to young families. But when a developer put on sale a batch of studio apartments of less than 200 sq ft each, it was roundly mocked by the local media for insulting Hong Kong people.

It is not clear how many potential home buyers actually felt insulted. But that batch of apartments was sold within a few days.

In land-scarce Hong Kong, living in small apartments does not carry a stigma. Most people in Hong Kong, as well as in some other major cities, live in small apartments.

In New York, it is considered trendy for a young professional to own a pad in Manhattan. Studio apartments and subdivided flats are in high demand not only in New York, but also in London and Tokyo.

Japanese salary workers and their families have long learnt to adapt to living in tight quarters. The alternative is to move out to the suburbs or neighbouring townships.

A friend of mine, who was a senior editor at one of the country's large daily newspapers, did just that. He had to change trains three times every day to get to his office in the city centre.

The trip took almost three hours, not including the 20-minute walk from his home to the town's train station.

To many people who work in Tokyo, spending many hours on crowded trains every day is a normal routine that is not worth mentioning. In contrast, people in Hong Kong gripe about the need to spend an hour or so commuting between office and home.

The government has set a high target to increase housing supply in the coming years. Meanwhile, it makes sense to try to set a standard to ensure the livability and safety of subdivided flats. If done right, they could become trendy in Hong Kong too.