B1 Intermediate US 873 Folder Collection
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It's more expensive to live in Hong Kong than anywhere in the world.
Hong Kong has been ranked
the least affordable housing market in the world
eight years in a row and by a long shot.
Housing prices are now almost 20 times more than annual income.
That means that a household making $50,000 USD
would on average be looking for a house that cost $980,000 USD.
And it's getting really bad.
Hundreds of thousands of residents
now squeeze into incredibly small apartments, most of them no bigger
than a parking space. So these are cage homes, which basically fit one person
and their belongings. And they basically stack these in a room in order to fit
as many people as they can in the room. And yet the price per square foot for
these smaller houses just keeps shooting up.
I visited these homes to try to piece
together an explanation for this trend and to meet the people who are being
squeezed by the world's least affordable real estate market.
There are now tens of thousands of people in this city who live in spaces
that are between 75 and 140 square feet. For some perspective a typical parking
space in the US is 120 square feet.
One of the most common strategies for small space living
is this subdivided house model. This big space that's been
divided up into a bunch of tiny little living spaces.
These people basically
have room for a bed and a table and a few belongings.
What makes this model work is that they have a bigger communal space where they're able to
have their cooking and their washing and the bathroom open to everyone, so that
they can save space and save money in their actual living quarters.
So this is
the kitchen for this space which is shared by four families.
The tempting explanation here for why the prices are
so high is land scarcity. You know, seven and a half million people crammed into this
series of islands, it's gonna drive up the prices. The same story in a lot of
places that have run out of land that are in high demand — in San Francisco or
New York City.
Okay this might be the story in New York City and San Francisco,
but is Hong Kong actually running out of land?
Let's see what the drone says about this.
Flying over Hong Kong you start to see that, while yes, there's a very dense
urban landscape, there's also a whole lot of green space.
Government land-use data
says that 75 percent of the land in Hong Kong is not developed. Now some of that
is mountainous and rocky and not easy to build on, but certainly not all of it.
So I posed this question about density to two experts, one is a Hong Kong
citizen and the other is a 30-plus year resident. Both are advocates for better
urban design.
Are high prices primarily the result of land scarcity?
No.
No.
There's a land-use issue, because also land is being
inefficiently used or conserved.
The problem isn't the shortage of land. The problem is bad land management.
Land use, land management, what these experts are referring to is that
of all the land in Hong Kong only 3.7% is zoned for urban housing.
But it's not because of mountains, it's because of policy.
And this gets to the heart of the explanation of why more and more people
are living in homes the size of parking spaces.
The first thing to note if you
want to understand the real explanation, is that the government owns all of the
land in Hong Kong. Well, all except for this one church that the British built
here when they ruled it back in the 1800s and it kind of just escaped the whole
government-owns-all-the-land thing.
So the government owns all the land and it
leases it out to developers, usually for 50 years in an auction process where the
highest bidder gets the contract. With such scarce and valuable land zoned for
housing, real estate companies more and more of them coming from mainland China
with lots of money, will duke it out in these auctions.
And will end up at an
astronomically high price.
Like this plot of land that was just
leased out for 2.2 billion dollars, which set an all-time record for the most
expensive land of ever leased by the Hong Kong government to a developer. So the
way the government zones and leases land is the first part of this. The other
part of this explanation has a lot to do with taxes. If you're the type of person
who navigates away from this video when you hear the word tax policy,
stay with me here.
This place loves low taxes. It's a great place to do business,
because the corporate tax is low no value-added tax, no sales tax, free
market economics, low taxes. That's embedded into the fabric of this place.
Look at all those low taxes doing their work, building up those skyscrapers,
slapping on those bank logos all over town.
So if the government isn't getting revenue
from taxes, it really needs it from another source and in the case of Hong Kong
that source is land sales.
A lot of the government revenues here
driven by land revenues and it's about 30% of government public financing income.
The government of Hong Kong can lease out this land to developers at
astronomical prices, make a ton of revenue from that and not have to raise
taxes on the people or the corporations that reside here and they still proudly
retain their ranking as the freest economy on earth.
What this
means is that the Hong Kong government doesn't have a huge incentive to free up
more land and lower prices, but while this current arrangement of bidding and
auctions is really good for revenue for the government and good for the market
generally, it's not super good for the people of Hong Kong.
Of all the small spaces,
this is easily the most cramped. These are coffin homes.
Could I ask you just a
quick question about your living space?
The government is slowly working on this problem.
Year after year new policies come in that are meant to fix this, but they're
slow to change, mainly because they have an incentive to keep the status quo as
it is.
Out here at this industrial complex in Hong Kong, I met with a guy
named Eric Wong, a local inventor and businessman who has seen a business
opportunity in the midst of this space crisis.
Eric grew up in Hong Kong and has been thinking about small-space living for a
long time.
Oh it has WiFi.
These capsules come in one or two-person sizes
and are meant to provide a more efficient and hygienic version of the
cage and coffin homes, all at a relatively low price.
Down here there's a
little box where you can put all your valuables and so there's mirror lights, there's
reading lights.
But these capsules, innovative as they are, really just put a
band-aid on this housing problem. They don't serve as a real solution.
A real solution would need to come from something that's much less profitable
and fun to look at:
Government policy and zoning reform that will free up more
land and put the interests of the people above the interests of the market, but
until the government can make that happen people in Hong Kong will continue
to squeeze into smaller and smaller spaces.
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Inside Hong Kong's cage homes

873 Folder Collection
Justin published on September 4, 2018    JiaWeiiii translated    Evangeline reviewed
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