Subdivided Units

by Can G February. 16, 2020 326 views

On our recent trip to Hong Kong, we learned about the precarious housing situation that is harsh reality for a few hundred thousand people there. The so-called subdivided units are a special form of housing in Hong Kong nobody likes to speak about. Once regular apartments, they were divided into multiple units, mostly in an illegal manner. Some provide as little as ~4 square meters (40 square feet) of space for people to live.

The Wikipedia article states that

Subdivided flats (also called subdivided units) are a ubiquitous type of rental housing found in Hong Kong. They are flats divided into two or more separate units to house more people. The flats' original partition walls are usually removed, and new ones are erected. New toilets and kitchens are installed, and internal drains are added or altered. These updates can compromise the building's safety and hygiene.[1]
It is estimated that 280,000 people live in subdivided flats or other similarly undesirable conditions, mostly located in old residential buildings. Many subdivided flats are even smaller than prison cells in Hong Kong.[2] According to a study by the Society for Community Organisation, people living in subdivided flats are mainly unemployed citizens, low-income families and new immigrants. The median living area per person of a subdivided flat was found to be 40 square feet for small suite and 30 square feet (2.8 sqm) for cubicle in 2009.[3]

In the following pictures, each A/C unit seen from the outside represents one apartment (and some have none), where sometimes multiple people live.

Since these flats obviously lack sanitary spaces, their inhabitants are forced to use public sanitary spaces such as this public sport center:

The following buildings probably do not host subdivided units, but they don't look much more inviting (or providing much more living space per unit) either:

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There are 7 comments , add yours!
Bethany Plonski 8 months, 1 week ago

I've been quite slow in my catch-up, but I haven't forgotten to come look at your photos! These are absolutely spectacular - the processing and framing of each image is perfect.  It's hard for me to imagine living in such close quarters, but these images convey such a vivid sense of scale and also interesting details. I really enjoy photos like this, when looking at them several times yields more and more depth and detail. Thank you for sharing!

8 months, 1 week ago Edited
Can G Replied to Bethany Plonski 8 months ago

Bethany, many thanks for your kind comments, much appreciated! I'm glad you have enjoyed the pics. And no worries, I'm a little slow lately  (or rather generally, I guess) as well and have to catch up, too. I guess the upcoming weeks will provide lots of opportunity for that, at least for me. Hope you're doing well and healthy in these times of fear & uncertanity.

8 months ago Edited
Antonio Gil 9 months, 1 week ago

It's like living in a bird's cage. Impressive. Love the pictures

9 months, 1 week ago Edited
Can G Replied to Antonio Gil 9 months, 1 week ago

Thanks Antonio. Bird's cages is actually a good analogy.

9 months, 1 week ago Edited
Benny Law 9 months, 1 week ago

In my first few years as a small kid, my family of five (my parents and two siblings and me) lived in a small room in an apartment shared with other relatives. Four of us slept on a double bed while my younger brother slept in a crib hung on the wall above the double bed. Life was challenging and interesting at the same time. I think we were already luckier than many other families. You captured this facet of Hong Kong exceptionally well as a tourist.

9 months, 1 week ago Edited
Can G Replied to Benny Law 9 months, 1 week ago

I can imagine that living in a confined space, even so more with lots of people adding to it, can be very challenging and probably not easy most of the time. Thanks for sharing your personal story. From the impressions we took from Hong Kong, we found that the gap between the rich & the poor was way too huge and that the bad side of capitalism has hit this city very hard. I was lucky enough to be born and grown up in one of the most privileged parts of the world (and I'm grateful for that every day), but I understand that the struggle of the people of Hong Kong is very real. If you're interested, there's a HK based photographer named Benny Lam (heh! smile) who published photo book titled "Trapped", featured in National Geographics here: - very touching images.

9 months, 1 week ago Edited
Benny Law Replied to Can G 9 months, 1 week ago

Wow, these are shocking images even to someone from Hong Kong. Thanks for sharing.

9 months, 1 week ago Edited