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Editorial : HK people forced to accept nano flats as normal

【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.

明報社評2018.10.19:港人求屋飢不擇食 納米樓變習以為常

迷你單位在世界各大城市愈益普遍,衍生不少問題。最近新加坡政府出招,限制發展商興建「鞋盒單位」數量,類似措施可否在港套用,需要仔細斟酌,然而政府不能坐視納米樓問題,任由市場決定一切。本港納米樓愈建愈多、面積愈縮愈細,沒有最小只有更小,根本不宜居住,政府無計可施,市民也漸漸習以為常,社會氛圍不再抗拒。本港土地房屋供不應求,不僅扭曲市場,更扭曲觀念,但求滿足置業需要,被迫「飢不擇食」,種種「次貨」都要考慮,實屬港人悲哀,香港必須加快造地建屋,不能繼續蹉跎。

不少大城市都面對樓價高、搵樓難的問題,由東京、溫哥華到紐約等地,近年都出現很多迷你單位。迷你單位沒有清晰定義,在香港,面積百多平方呎才算是納米樓,不過在外國,一些300多呎的單位,已屬迷你單位。

日前新加坡政府頒布新指引,修改每個樓盤可建迷你單位數量的計算公式,遏阻「鞋盒單位」氾濫,發展商新樓盤可建單位數目上限,將降低近兩成。新措施除了希望壓阻私樓單位愈縮愈細的勢頭,確保宜居,也希望避免「鞋盒單位」數量急增,推高社區人口密度,令區內基建不勝負荷。

當然,星港兩地房屋問題迥異,在新加坡行得通的政策,未必能夠移植到香港。新加坡的「鞋盒單位」,一般都有300多呎或以上,在香港已算是細單位而非納米樓。新加坡房屋以組屋為主,私人市場所佔比重較低,中短期土地短缺問題也遠不如香港尖銳,凡此種種均令新加坡政府有較多空間和本錢,處理私樓「鞋盒單位」問題。可是同類措施放在香港,肯定不會有相同效果,甚至只會衍生更多光怪陸離現象,關鍵在於本港公私營房屋供應嚴重不足,市民置業安居需求殷切,已到了「單位好醜不重要,最緊要是有得住」的地步。

過去5年,本港納米樓落成量大增7倍,單位面積更是拾級而下,個別新發展項目,最細單位實用面積僅得90平方呎,細得近乎一個車位大小。業界估計,今年至2020年將有3300「納米樓」單位落成。市民明知納米樓細得不宜人住,然而當昔日「上車盤」也漲價至500多萬元,要靠有限積蓄「上車」,納米樓幾乎是唯一選擇,就算政府禁建禁售納米樓、發展商願意多建400呎左右的細單位,一般市民仍然買不起。

■Glossary

choosy : careful in choosing; difficult to please

hasten sth : to make sth happen sooner or more quickly

halt sb/sth : make sb/sth stop

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