Think Your Home’s Small? Look At Hong Kong’s Illegal Microapartments

Complaints about needing more shoe storage or having no space for your third bike? Please. In Hong Kong, the price per square foot averages $1,300.

A “small apartment” in New York means under 300 square feet. In Hong Kong, that square-footage count routinely dips into double digits. With the world’s third-most expensive housing market, many of the city’s lower-income residents are forced to live in shockingly small apartments. A single square foot of Hong Kong real estate will cost you over $1,300, on average.


It can be tough to grasp the reality of living in what amounts to a very functional closet through facts and figures, though. These images, which show us a bird’s eye view of several Hong Kong microapartments, do a much better job. They were produced by a Chinese human rights group called the Society for Community Organization, whose mission is to promote equality amongst citizens. “Grassroots people are struggling day in and day out to keep their head above water,” SoCO explains. “Standing in the line of dejection are caged lodgers, tenants living in appalling conditions, aged singletons, street-sleepers, mothers with no one-way permit to live in Hong Kong, families made up of new immigrants and boat dwellers.”

As part of SoCO’s campaign to draw attention to the housing shortage, the group commissioned a photographer to visit dozens of Hong Kong families living in dangerously tiny spaces. They estimate that over 100,000 people are living in unauthorized apartments in the city, a number that may well be low. “In recent years, there are a huge number of partitioned rooms being built in industrial buildings,” the group explains. “As it is illegal to live there, those residents living at industrial buildings are not counted and hence the government figure is underestimated.”

As some have noted, the photos recall Kowloon City, the 15-story megablock that was demolished by city authorities in 1993. But unlike Kowloon, which was a kind of self-contained zone, these conditions are ubiquitous across Hong Kong.

[H/t Visual News]


About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.