Simon Wong has spent the last 20 years learning the hard way how to live with less. Less clutter, less money, and, most noticeably, less space.
Wong, a 61-year-old Hong Kong resident, is one of a growing number of citizens forced into so-called “coffin homes,” 20-square-foot cages that offer just enough space to lie down and hang a few shirts and pairs of pants.
His monthly rent of AUD$296 would be enough to share a roomy one-bedroom apartment in many American towns (though admittedly it would only be enough to rent a closet in big cities like New York City and San Francisco). Instead, his living space measures just 4’x6′.
Hong Kong’s housing prices are currently at an all-time high, with the average price per square foot now hovering around $1,809. (In New York City, it’s roughly $2,156.) Hong Kong’s chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, has called the housing crisis “the gravest potential hazard” to society, as only 7% of the city’s land is zoned for housing.
People like Wong are casualties of that affordable-housing scarcity. The government estimates some 200,000 people live in coffin homes, but as a spokesperson for the Society for Community Organisation told Reuters, the true number could be much higher.
Wong says he’s applied for public housing, but has received no response indicating whether he’s been accepted or denied.
His only luxury may be that he’s single. Unlike people living with family members or spouses, he doesn’t have to negotiate scarce resources like food or privacy. Some families have no choice but to live in subdivided housing, meaning a father and daughter could live in one room while the mother and son live down the hall.
Wong, meanwhile, is free to watch TV or smoke a cigarette within the confines of his box at all hours of the day.
Hong Kong has announced plans to build more affordable homes over the next decade. By 2027, it plans to add 280,000 public homes and 180,000 private homes.
But in the meantime, many residents have no choice but to move into increasingly smaller homes, even if it means sacrificing every last creature comfort for a roof over their heads.