How the Hong Kong government is using youth hostels to fight its housing crisis

Hong Kong’s housing crisis is notable, even among major urban hubs.

How the Hong Kong government is using youth hostels to fight its housing crisis
A residential building is pictured in Hong Kong, China, October 19, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

As big cities welcome more and more people, it’s not unusual for housing to be harder to come by. Sometimes, there just isn’t enough space or structures available to the right people at the right time. But Hong Kong’s housing crisis is notable, even among major urban hubs.

With 7.3 million residents, the city has been at the top of the list for years for having the highest housing prices and wealth inequality, with over 120,000 millionaires and more than 1.6 million people living in poverty (according to a 2020 report). In the past decade, home prices have jumped 187%, according to government data. Hundreds of thousands of people have been applying for public housing, and some say they’re expected to wait an average of 6-6.5 years before finding anything.

This past March, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive John Lee said tackling the housing crisis is a top priority, with plans to evaluate the issue of subdivided flats (aka “coffin homes”) and hurrying new housing projects.

“When you look at 10 years [time], we will have more than sufficient houses,” he said.“The long-term housing strategies have already identified the need for building 300,000 public housing units. We’ve already got sufficient land to build 360,000.”

Also in March, the city’s Home and Youth Affairs Bureau (HYAB) approved the first project under the Subsidy Scheme for Using Hotels and Guesthouses as Youth Hostels from the Hong Kong United Youth Association (HKUYA). Launched in January, this scheme is all about increasing the number of youth hostels, with the government even subsidizing NGOs to allow hotels and guesthouses to be turned into youth hostels so that younger residents can access more housing. Over the next five years, the program is meant to open up 3,000 more hostel places.

These hostel places can be rented for up to five years by residents and are often a lot cheaper than space in a subdivided flat. Applicants have to be under 31, earn less than HK$25,000 (US$3,200) a month, and have less than HK$380,000 (US$48,500) in assets. They have to be interviewed first and do 200 hours of community service a year once they start renting their rooms (if they’re selected). The first of these hostel projects, the BeLIVING Youth Hub, has already opened, along with three others.

The HYAB said in a press release: “In spite of the resumption of normal travel and the start of the travel industry's recovery, there are still hotel operators which participate in the Scheme and collaborate with the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government in pursuing youth development. The HYAB will continue to collaborate with NGOs and relevant stakeholders who share our vision in inspiring our youths and brightening our future."