The vermin-ridden, fire-trap subdivided apartment is contemporary Hong Kong’s stereotype media-cliché not-so-hidden dirty secret. Poor families, typically Mainland immigrants, live crammed into 100-square-foot cubicles with poor air, lighting and sanitation – paying rents that total over half their incomes.
Now, Asia’s World City may soon be offering a new dystopian residential hell: the subdivided houseboat, in which middle-class Western expat families are forced to share floating homes surrounded by piles of dogs, baby strollers, 60-inch TVs, tennis rackets and Le Creuset casseroles.
That is the nightmare scenario suggested by the latest news from Discovery Bay, where landlord HKRI is evicting yacht-owners from the marina. All other leisure berths in town are full. Angry boat-dwellers believe the company is renovating the facility in order to rent it out to billionaires with mega-luxury ocean-going vessels.
It is an interesting story because, unlike penniless Mainland single-mothers, the people concerned are articulate (or assertive/entitled according to taste), possibly have at least some connections, and they symbolize the cosmopolitan image that talent-seeking Hong Kong officials are struggling to maintain.
The eviction sounds like the sort of gentrification any Hong Kong developer would instinctively do. Indeed, HKRI is turning other parts of DB into a Mainland tourism/shopping/property hub-zone. With Mainland money pouring into other districts, the company probably sees the whole area as an under-yielding patch of real estate, clogged up by middle-income foreign managerial types who want an affordable suburb to live in.
Foreigners who live in boats are a fringe subset of Hong Kong’s expat population. (Coincidently, someone recently proposed putting container homes on ships as a way to tackle Hong Kong’s housing crisis, prompting memories of a time when much of the city’s population lived on fishing vessels.) Like DB residents in general, cryptocurrency investors, golfers, the remarried and others with questionable life-skills and judgement, they insist they have made a superior choice, while sounding rather defensive about it. They are now finding out how clever it was.
The deal (looking at the SCMP story) is that for (say) a HK$5-10 million boat-purchase and marina membership, plus monthly fees, you can get a 2,000-sq-ft home. This is a tiny fraction (20% max?) of what such an apartment on land would cost.
The gods of Hong Kong property cannot abide such willful defiance or such an extreme aberration of nature, and will take their revenge.