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Hong Kong needs bigger apartments

CityLab recently published this article about “why Hong Kong is building apartments the size of parking spaces.” It’s about the city’s “microflats” which are typically in the range of 150 to 300 square feet. Supposedly there about 8,500 of these apartments across Hong Kong and in 2019 (this was apparently peak microflat) they represented about 7% of all new residential construction.

Hong Kong is one of the densest and most supply constrained real estate markets on the planet. And so there are very good reasons for these affordability pressures and the push toward smaller apartments. The article gets into a number of them. The concern I have is that the article also seems to blame developers for a number of these problems, without a clear understanding of the economics behind new construction.

It is not enough to simply say that developers need to be less greedy and build bigger apartments. If a 250 sf apartment currently costs $1 million and you think it should be twice as big, then the price is now also going to be somewhere around twice as big. Is the answer more $2 million apartments? Developers trade in space and more space costs more money to build.

All of this is not to say that housing affordability isn’t a problem worth addressing. It of course is. I am simply saying that there is a cost structure behind every new development that is driving decision making and driving what ultimately gets built. Understanding it can be helpful when looking for solutions. Believe it or not, not all developers are bad. Some actually want to help build beautiful, sustainable, and prosperous cities.

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