Living is not just surviving

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Co-living is about more than addressing the housing shortage

Reporters: Jennifer Leung, Marilyn Ma, Crystal Wu

Editors: Chloe Kwan, Ryan Li

In 2017, Hong Kong was found to be the least affordable city in the world for housing for the seventh consecutive year, according to an annual survey. Buying an apartment remains out of the question for many young people, who are also increasingly priced out of the rental market for all but sub-divided flats.

Co-living has become a popular topic of discussion – especially among young people – against this backdrop. By living together, people can share the cost of the rent as well as utilities charges such as water and electricity, lightening their financial burden. However, the concept of co-living is about more than just saving money.

Co-Housing HK is a group of five young people who want to explore and promote co-living in Hong Kong. Members want to make a difference in a city where rents continue to soar and many people have to live in cramped spaces. Co-founder Lai Wing-fung, who is an architect, says, “Living is not surviving, To live is not to just have a bed to sleep in.”

The group believes that apart from offering a more affordable housing arrangement, co-living is about living well and being part of a community. Lai says this is what sets co-living apart from sub-divided flats. In a co-living arrangement, housemates can share their lives and become good friends who hang out together in a common space, instead of just retreating into their own rooms to be on their own.

The collective faces a number of challenges in order to turn their ideas into reality – for instance they have to find appropriate properties to rent, find a way to change the layout of the properties to suit their uses with the owners’ agreement. They’d like to find a vacant village house where all three storeys are available for rent but these are not so easy to come by. Still, group members know they have to overcome these challenges if they are to win around converts. Their future plans include multiple co-living houses, but for now, they plan to start with one.

“There has to be one working co-living house first, to prove that the project is practical,” said Josie Cheng Ho-yi, another co-founder.

In fact, there are successful examples of organized co-living in Hong Kong, for instance, among the elderly. In Chuk Yuen North, a public housing estate in Wong Tai Sin, the Helping Hand charity runs a co-living accommodation is provided for 360 elderly people. The co-living arrangement not only addresses their housing problems but also creates a community where the elderly residents do not have to deal with loneliness.

The residents move here for various reasons, with the lack of living space and family problems being the most common ones. Leung Chi-choi, a 91-year-old resident, moved to the elderly unit when her grandsons grew too big for their cramped shared accommodation, they were also too noisy and she couldn’t sleep. She also found it difficult to deal with her son-in-law’s temper and was unhappy in the household. After moving into the elderly unit, she did find some differences in lifestyle with her roommates, but she still manages to get along with them.

Co-living arrangements can also be helpful for former drug addicts who are trying to rebuild their lives and return to mainstream society. Ling Oi Centre operates the Wing Lee Residence for male ex-drug abusers, a co-living accommodation that costs residents HK$1200 a month.

Daniel Cheng, who is 30 years-old, quit drugs two years ago moved to the Wing Lee Residence last year. After 15 years of using drugs, Cheng decided to quit. It’s his second stint at the residence. During his first stay, he ended up moving out because he succumbed to the temptations of his former life.

Cheng is currently living with two other residents, and he thinks the co-living experience is beneficial to his rehabilitation and recovery. “When we see each other, we’ll ask each other about our past experiences – why did we took drugs, how many times we tried to quit drugs. After listening to their sharing, I have a stronger resolve to stay away from drugs,” says Cheng. “The environment of co-living helps me to get rid of loneliness.”

Chan Nang-lung, a social worker for Wing Lee Residence, says the co-living environment offers ex-drug abusers a sense that they are not alone. From the perspective of a co-living service provider, Chan sees co-living model as being both emotionally supportive and cost-effective.