Coffin houses in Hong Kong, how much they cost and why people live in 1.5 square meter cages

TO Hong Kong the poorest people live in cages or wooden crates (also known as coffin-houses) from less than 1.5 square meters stacked on top of each other. The luckiest, so to speak, can instead buy 10 square meter mini-apartments to live with their family. This is one of the most serious housing phenomena of recent years which involves more than 220,000 people out of approximately 7 million inhabitants. These are housing units which for the most part are illegal and which are created from old apartments within enormous residential complexes, such as the Monster Building or the Lucky House. What is done is to knock down the non-load-bearing walls and build thinner ones, so as to obtain many small low-cost housing units: consider that a house in Hong Kong costs on average around 20 thousand dollars per square meter.
In this video we will see not only who lives in these “houses” but we will analyze how they are made thanks to unpublished 3D images.

Mini-houses in Hong Kong: types and costs

Taking as reference a report from South China Morning Postlet's see what the most popular types of illegal “houses” are in Hong Kong and how they are made inside, starting from the most dignified ones up to the most inhumane ones.

Little apartament

Among low-income families, the most popular housing choice is probably that of a mini-apartment. Let's talk about studio apartments from 30-40 square meters which are divided into 3 residential units, each equipped with a mini-kitchen and private mini-bathroom. Each housing unit has a surface area of ​​approximately 10 square meters, therefore more or less the size of a single cell in an Italian prison. Although in Hong Kong it often happens that more than one person lives in such a small space, obviously, even in the 10% of the cases we talk about more than 4 people.

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For this accommodation we are talking about a monthly rent of around 600-700 euros. To give you an idea, most people who live here get something between 1100 and 1700 euros a month. The point is that “normal” homes cost so much that this is the most they can afford. But this is just the tip of the iceberg: Hong Kong's (illegal) real estate market has much worse to offer.

Storage houses

On the step below we find the so-called “storage houses”, with a surface area of ​​approximately 3.5 m2, so about the size of a normal bathroom. Also in this case these are spaces created by adding walls to existing rooms and given the small size they are often rooms extremely crowded with personal objects and without a private bathroom. They are usually present 1 or 2 bathrooms to share with 10 other people. Sometimes there is a fan on the ceiling, if one is okay window, and the bed is located next to the stove, leaving virtually zero movement space. Here we can easily get to the 450 euros per monthand without too many problems.

Coffin houses


Here we come to perhaps the most iconic houses, unfortunately, of illegal Hong Kong, that is, the so-called “coffin houses”. It's literally about wooden boxes or metal from the surface of 1.5m2 inside which there is barely room for a small mattress and which make standing impossible. They are usually placed inside a room 15 to 20 boxes and both the bathroom and the kitchen are shared.

Each box then has a sliding door that can be closed with a padlock and this, even if it is not much, allows you to maintain a minimum of privacy. There are on the walls and ceiling hooks And metal bars to hang personal objects and often there is also a at the foot of the bed mini-TV. In this case, we are around 350 euros per month of rent.

Cage houses

At the bottom of the list we have the most terrible thing anyone could imagine: the cage houses. These are literally gods wire mesh cages stacked on top of each other. These have a surface area of ​​approx 1.3 square meters and the “floor”, as in wooden coffin houses, is occupied entirely by the Bed. Personal objects are hung on the walls and, at most, you can aspire to have a fan to circulate the air a little – considering that even in this case they are placed on average in a room 15-20 cages.

Unlike coffin houses, here the walls do not even allow you to have a minimum of privacy, in addition to the fact that you are exposed to the smells and noises of all the other occupants of the room. Here the rent is on average around 170 euros per month. What most of these situations have in common, be they closets or cages, is that in most cases they are illegal: that is, the work of subdividing an apartment into smaller units is done without the necessary authorizations and without following the regulations established by the government.

This obviously causes several problems both in terms of safety what about hygiene: it is no coincidence that in most cases there are rooms that are extremely dirty and often infested with cockroaches and bed bugs.

The cost of housing in Hong Kong and who lives in coffin houses

According to data from the Hong Kong Transport and Housing Bureau, the 64% of the residents of these coffin-houses has among 25 to 64 years old and unfortunately the 16% it even has less than 15 years, therefore there are thousands of children and young people who unfortunately still live and grow in these conditions today. According to some estimates we are talking about at least 50 thousand minors. Obviously these are people with very low incomes to which are added pensioners, drug addicts, ex-prisoners and people with mental illnesses – in short, all categories who are unable to face the very high costs of living in Hong Kong, where on average to buy a house you have to spend more than 20 thousand dollars per square meter.

To give you a comparison, with the same purchasing power, it is as if in Italy for the same house in Milan instead of paying I don't know… 4000 euros per square meter – which is already not little at all – we paid 10 thousand euros per square meter

Where are the coffin houses located?

These homes are scattered throughout Hong Kong, although there are areas where their concentration is particularly high. The 55% of all these “housing solutions” is in fact found in Kowloon. This shouldn't surprise us: Kowloon is historically the neighborhood where the first maxi apartments to house Chinese workers at the time of English domination. Right here stood the walled city of Kowloon until 1994, one of the most inhospitable places ever built where people lived crowded together 50,000 people – making that place one of the most densely populated on the planet.

The government's initial idea, however, was to relocate in the short term all these people who lived in terrible conditions in public housing. The point is that Hong Kong has seen a very rapid expansion, all the building surface has been substantially used and therefore the construction of new public housing is progressing extremely slowly. Just to give you an idea, it is estimated that in June 2020 they were on the list 155,800 people to have a council house for rent but in just one year 10,400 they managed to get a place to sleep. This has pushed many people to look for ultra-cheap housing so as not to end up in the middle of the street, enriching the coffers of the underworld and fueling a vicious circle.

This can also be seen from the data: in 2003 there were approximately 66 thousand illegal units while in 2020 these have become 100 thousand. Among other things, the average price of these illegal homes has also risen, going from 450 to the 560 euros per month. To date, however, the Government is trying to act and the plan is to completely eliminate these illegal homes by 2049. Only time will tell whether they will succeed or not.