Housing in Hong Kong & Macao

A lot of people consider Hong Kong to be the greatest cities of the world, but most are looking only as tourist point of view and they do not know the living conditions. Even some singaporeans think that living in Hong Kong is better, while some (more) hongkongers think that living in Singapore is better. Is Hong Kong richer than Singapore? See HERE!

Personally I appreciate Hong Kong for their efforts to build a city on improper, non-flat terrain, and also for several of the biggest engineering projects in the world history, but… I do not want to live in Hong Kong! Singapore is overall better at living conditions.

Victoria Harbour

Hong Kong is the city of contrasts and gigantic proportions, it also holds numerous world records. Examples: Hong Kong International Airport built on a 12 sq km artificial island, 4 enormous suspension and cable-stayed bridges, 5 underwater tunnels, biggest apartment buildings with smallest apartments, most expensive real estate, etc. The tunnel of Lei Yue Mun road under Sceneway Garden may be the largest tunnel of the world (~35 meters wide, no pillars). Hong Kong hold multiple times the record of most expensive apartment in the world, example from June 2008 and from October 2009.

Hong Kong population dropped from an estimated 1,600,000 to an estimated 500,000-750,000 during Japanese occupation during World War II, according Wikipedia. Apartment sizes were much bigger than today. After war, population rose quickly to 4,000,000 in 1970, mostly due to immigration from China. Hong Kong land measure 1,104 sq km and its population is 7,071,576 people at 2011 census, density about 6,400 people per sq km (similar with Singapore), but because of mountains, only 1/5 of land is developed, so the city itself is much more dense.

Macau land measure 30 sq km (half of it reclaimed from sea) and its population is 552,503 people at 2011 census. Density about 18,000 people per sq km.

Housing: due to rising population in 1950s and 1960s, most of pre-war shophouses were demolished and many high-rise tenements and apartment blocks were built, 10-30 floors in Island, while in Kowloon the height was limited to 12 floors due to nearby Kai Tak Airport. Blocks covering almost whole plot of land, often featuring balconies hanging over street, transforming the streets into urban canyons, sunlight rarely reach the street level, you hardly find a piece of grass between buildings. The deficit of housing was huge, thus smaller and smaller apartments were built. Residents did everything to use every feet of space. Old apartments were subdivided, balconies were enclosed and turned into additional rooms, caged balconies were added on building facades, huts were built on rooftops, etc. In Hong Kong the caged balconies were removed during 1990s due to risk of falling, but in Macau they are still present.

The parts of Hong Kong built up to 1980 looks ugly and dirty, due to lack of management, lack of aesthetic maintenance, balconies walled and enclosed according each owner wish, air conditioners hanging randomly on walls, rooftop additions, plus a lot of pipes, wires, cages, clothing racks, and other ugly objects hanged on external walls.

Urban Renewal Authority takes care of redevelopment of the old buildings, but most 1950s-1970s buildings are kept because they have high plot ratio and cannot be rebuild denser, only buildings in severe decay are demolished (for comparison: in Singapore pre-war shophouses are conserved while most of 1960s-1980s condos been demolished after only 20-30 years to be rebuild denser).

Housing patterns changed after 1980, most likely the government introduced plot ratios, building gross floor area cannot exceed the land area multiplied by a certain number (can someone indicate me exact laws?). Developers started building individual towers with setback from streets. Bay windows are not counted in gross floor area, so they became common, while balconies disappeared, making Hong Kong to be nicknamed “city of bay windows”. Ledges for air conditioners were provided beside bay windows, thus no more ugly objects were hanging from walls.

Accurate statistics about average apartment size are not available, but personally I estimate that apartment sizes dropped to 30-40 sqm in 1980s then rose to 40-50 sqm today. Over 90% of Hong Kong families today live in homes smaller than 700 square feet / 65 sqm (source: Global Post and other newsy websites).

Today, Hong Kong is the most vertical city in the world according Emporis statistics, beating cities like New York, Singapore, or Sao Paulo in the number of high-rises (with over 12 storeys) or skyscrapers (over 100 and 150 meters in height), also beats all records of proportion of population living above any given storey number, but it has been recently defeated by Dubai in terms of buildings over 300 meters. See also Skyscrapers Database.

The massiveness of skyscrapers contrasts with the extremely small apartments, typical size is 35-45 sqm for 3-room and 50-60 sqm for 4-room. 3-room is most common apartment type, but today there are more 4-room under construction. Minimum ceiling height is 2.5 meters.

Housing price: typical, 50 sqm apartments vary from 2 million HKD (250.000 USD) in New Territories to over 6 million HKD in Hong Kong Island, even higher prices in Mid-Levels.

Landscape of Hong Kong is more beautiful than Singapore’s one. Coastal areas are full with skyscrapers with impressive views, mountains are again full with skyscrapers with even more breathtaking views, but all have tiny but expensive apartments. Same for Macau too. Hong Kong may beat San Francisco at the number of very steep streets.

Once you leave Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, you enter in a very different world. New Territories include few “New Towns” less dense, but still with massive apartment towers. Unlike Singapore, HongKong also have rural areas, low-density village houses in New Territories, but they looks like slums. Hong Kong have lots of nature, scenic roads, forest walks, hiking trails, etc.

Urban planning in Hong Kong is worsen than in Singapore in my opinion, too much space is wasted with highways with their complex intersections. Also in New Territories there are too large open spaces, stand-alone or rows of apartment towers, rather than linear buildings like in Singapore.

Public transport is one of the best in the world. Mass Transit Railway opened in 1979 and as 2012 reached 175 km of lines, plus 36 km of Light Rail. There is one car per 13 people. Hong Kong won best airport award in 2011.

My suggestions: better planning for roads, develop more flat land of New Territories, also demolish some of the hundreds of ugly villages and build high-rises.

Housing types in Hong Kong

Public housing history began in 1954, temporary and low-cost housing. In 1973 government announced programme to provide permanent housing, since 1990s slightly over half of population lives under Public Rental Housing and Home Ownership Programmer, as 2012 the percentage dropped to 46%.

Private housing estates and single buildings are home for other half of population.

Village houses are outside main city, limited to 3 floors, most of these houses are multi-family (apartments).

Villas means single-family residences, usually luxury, number of them is about 10000.

Rooftop huts are illegal residences commonly found on the roof of old private buildings and village houses.

Boathouses are the residence for few thousand people, dropping in recent years.

Hong Kong floor plans

For public housing of Hong Kong, the Housing Authority website added floorplans in 2010 for the HOS/PSPS/TPS estates. For private housing, you should search on the developer’s website or on GoHome.com.hk and Centadata.com, which contains floor plans of most private developments built after 1980.

I compiled a list of floor plans by block type in Hong Kong floor plans page.

Less known, Macau also have public housing: Instituto de Habitacao, but fewer estates (6,300 apartments) compared with Hong Kong (over 1.1 million apartments) and less percentage of residents living in public housing. I did not found much info about Macao public housing, floor plans seems to not be available online, but by measuring blocks in Google Earth, it’s obvious that the flat sizes are larger, probably with 25-50% compared with Hong Kong.

Older buildings (1950s-1970s)

Point mouse on images to see building name!
Ugly building Old building
Dirty building Dirty building
Dirty building Causeway Bay
Skyscraper forest Mirador Mansions
Causeway Bay Ugly buildings, Macau Urban canyons, Macau

Many photos with old buildings on http://www.panoramio.com/user/4434668
and https://www.flickr.com/photos/acstudio/ (page 50+)

Newer buildings (2000s)

Point mouse on images to see building name!
Wonderland Willas Sorrento
Celestial Heights Tin Fu Court

More photos with new buildings on Hong Kong floor plans page.

Spectacular drone photos: https://mymodernmet.com/andy-yeung-kowloon-walled-city/

Hong Kong rural villages

Hong Kong villages exists mostly in New Territories as well in remote parts of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. Most of the “village houses” are composed by apartments too, probably 2-4 per floor. The government limit the height of villages to 3 floors, but due to housing deficit, numerous village houses have the roof terrace covered and converted in 4th floor, sometimes 5th floor. The village streets can be narrow as 1.5 meters (5-foot walkway). A common car park does exist in each village.

The single-family homes are called Villas and are not related with these villages.

Lei Yue Mun village Lei Yue Mun village
Lantau Island village

Living in Hong Kong

Do you though that Hong Kong means luxury and high standards of living?
Hong Kong have biggest income inequality of developed countries: video.
CNN report of cage homes, 90 people living in a 625 sq ft apartment: video. Is this a single case or are more buildings like this?
Families living in 40 square feet: photos.
A family of 4 living in 150 square feet, in a subdivided apartment: video.
Well-known video of Hong Kong architect converting a 30 sqm 3-room apartment into a studio apartment with 24 different room configuration possible.
Example of 16.4 square feet “apartment”: video (thanks EL for giving me the link). I do not understand if it is a promotional video or a news/research report, do you?
Quite obvious that the government PRH production is not enough, the waiting list for public housing is several years.

Amoy Gardens typical 1980s estate, including a video showing a shocking small apartment.

One of the most beautiful things of Hong Kong

Is the symphony of lights! Running every day at 8 PM, it takes 14 minutes. It is completed by fireworks in certain occasions (new year, christmas, etc).


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    • Matthew on February 27, 2013 at 6:40 pm
    • Reply

    Hong Kong does not employ foreign labour in construction. See Khaw Boon Wan’s blog. They are very productive, but the labour cost is high, which is also why they are very productive. Therefore, I think that is the reason why each unit is small, standardized and expensive because the cost of construction is high….to improve productivity and therefore incur less wastage and construction cost, the units are standardized, pre-fabricated and built to assemble, therefore there are many small units to maximize profits for developer.

    Singapore make use of construction workers from Thailand, China, Indian and other developing countries, so we have lower cost, but also lower productivity

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