【明報專訊】MICRO-APARTMENTS are an increasingly widespread phenomenon that has given rise to many problems across big cities around the world. The Singapore government has recently moved to limit the number of "shoe-box units" that property developers can build. Whether similar measures can work also in Hong Kong may require detailed examination. Nevertheless, the Hong Kong government must not sit back and do nothing about the nano flat problem, leaving it in the hands of the market to decide everything. Nano flats in Hong Kong have become increasingly common and tiny. No flats can ever be called the tiniest because even tinier ones are bound to come up later. Although such flats are unsuitable for living, the government has seemed to see no way out of the problem. With people gradually getting accustomed to their existence, nano flats are not resisted in society any more. Hong Kong's shortfall in land and housing supply has distorted not only the market, but also people's concept of home buying. People are forced to accept that "hungry ones cannot be choosy about food". In order to meet their need for buying homes, even "substandard flats" of any sort have to be taken into consideration. In view of such a sad situation faced by all, Hong Kong must hasten its pace in expanding land for housing rather than continue to let time slip away.
From Tokyo, Vancouver to New York, many big cities facing the problem of high property prices and difficulty in finding homes have seen the sprouting up of micro-apartments. There is no clear definition of micro-apartments. In Hong Kong, only a flat with an area as small as 100 square feet or so will be described as a nano unit. But in cities abroad, apartments about 300 square feet in size are already classified as micro-flats.
In order to halt the spread of so called "shoe-box units", the Singapore government issued the other day a set of new guidelines that change the formula for calculating the number of micro-units allowed in each property project. The maximum number of units allowed will be reduced by nearly one fifth. Aside from halting the trend of shrinking private apartment sizes and safeguarding the livability of people's homes, the measures are also aimed at preventing "shoe-box units" from multiplying rapidly and thus pushing up the population density in affected neighbourhoods, which will lead to the overloading of community infrastructures.
Of course, housing problems faced by Singapore and Hong Kong are absolutely different. A policy that is feasible in Singapore may not work when transplanted to Hong Kong. A "shoe-box unit" in Singapore usually has an area of 300 square feet or more, which in Hong Kong is already seen as a small rather than nano flat. The majority of housing estates in Singapore are government-built HDB (Housing and Development Board) flats while the private market comprises only a relatively small proportion. Land shortage there in the mid- and short- terms is also a far cry from the pressing situation in Hong Kong. All this means the Singapore government has more room and resources in dealing with the "shoe-box apartment" problem. However, if the same policy is applied in Hong Kong, one can certainly say it will not exhibit the same effect here. Instead it may only result in even more absurd phenomena. The key difference here lies in the serious shortage of both public and private housing in Hong Kong. The demand for housing and buying homes is so strong that people have reached the point of even accepting the following: "As long as there is a flat to live in, whether it is a good or bad one is not important anymore."
The number of nano flats completed over the past five years has inflated seven-fold. These flats are also increasingly small in area. In certain new development projects, the saleable area of the smallest unit is only 90 square feet, nearly as small as a parking place for one car. According to estimates by the industry, about 3,300 new nano flats will be completed between this year and 2020. Although people clearly know such nano flats are not suitable for living, given that even the price of what was once called a flat for getting onto the property ladder has skyrocketed to more than five million dollars, nano flats have almost become the only option now if they want to get onto the property ladder with their limited savings. Even if the government is to ban the building as well as selling of nano flats and the developers are willing to build more small units of around 400 square feet, ordinary citizens will still be unable to afford them.
choosy : careful in choosing; difficult to please
hasten sth : to make sth happen sooner or more quickly
halt sb/sth : make sb/sth stop