Looking for affordable rents in Hong Kong? Try co-living space

An artist illustration of the common area at the Bibliotheque | Photo: SCMP handout

A group of professionals with property and architectural backgrounds is converting old tenement Hong Kong buildings into co-living projects to offer an affordable housing and networking option to young people.

Synergy Biz, co-founded by Keith Wong who gained extensive experience working in Hong Kong property firms, will launch its second co-living project in Mong Kok for lease in September. The project will be fully opened in the fourth quarter of this year. Wong co-founded the firm with architect Addie Cheng.

The HK$150 million project called Bibliotheque, meaning library in French, was converted from two 5-storey buildings, providing 166 bed spaces in 15 units , with a monthly rental starting from HK$4,000 (US$512). The monthly rental fee also covers regular cleaning and management services.

“We have received more than 200 inquiries even before the official launch in September,” said Wong. “About 30 per cent of the spaces have been reserved by a university which plans to use it as accommodation for their students.”

The two five-storey Bibliotheque is the firm’s second co-living project, comprising 13,000 square feet of living and networking spaces,and fully-furnished with standard and convenient amenities. Each unit, with area ranging from 800 sq ft to 1,600 sq ft, accommodates six to 10 people.

“Each floor is designed to encapsulate a different theme, ranging from design and cooking, movies, fashion to sports, and is reflected in the library of books on display,” said Cheng.

About 60 per cent of unit size would be used for bed spaces, while 40 per cent were common area to be shared by tenants, she said.

“It creates not only a living space, but also introduces a brand-new style of living – the sharing of common space and facilities to enrich residents’ living quality,” said Wong.

Bibliotheque will host various activities to provide a platform for residents to meet with like-minded people, aiming to provide opportunities and spaces to gather residents and to facilitate communication among each other.

Cheng said the firm saw opportunities in providing this innovative accommodation for young people considering that rental have soared to levels beyond general public affordability.

Two and a half years ago, she said the firm acquired a five-storey tenement building, which housed 25 subdivided flats with poor facilities in Hung Hom. It refurbished the premises into its first co-living project, SynBOX.

The project has 15 units providing 67 bed spaces, with rents starting from HK$3,000 per month. Each unit, with two to five beds, has to share the bathroom and kitchen.

The first floor has a television, sofas for meeting friends and a laundry room, while there is a rooftop for hosting activities.

The firm bought the building for HK$60 million, and invested an additional HK$17 million in refurbishment. The building has 5,000 sq ft of gross floor area.

“For traditional developers, they may demolish the building and redevelop it into another mini-flat project for sale. But we see it differently. We can give a new lease of life for this 50-year-old tenement building by injecting innovative design and concept in it,” Cheng said.

With an annual rental income of HK$300,000, she said the revival of the old building would also enhance the commercial value of shop spaces on the ground floor and the whole building as well.

Synergy is also engaged in operating co-working space projects. Its portfolio consists of 10 commercial and residential projects operating in the co-sharing concept.

Four out of 10 tenants at SynBOX are university students, and the remaining are young professionals who have newly arrived in Hong Kong.

Mary Joy Buitre, who is studying for a master of science degree in the Chinese University of Hong Kong, is one such tenant. She rented a bed space at SynBox for HK$3,200 per month when she started her studies in Hong Kong in September 2016.

Her utility bill is about HK$50 to HK$100 per month as she shares the room with three other girls.

“I am sharing the flat with girls from China and Sri Lanka who are also my classmates. It is nice to know people who are not Filipino like me. What I like is that we can share the flat and live together. Our traditions and culture are different, and we are able to enjoy living together,”she said.

She said she liked the accommodation so much that she recommended her classmate to come stay at the project when one of her room mates left after completing her studies.

“It is affordable. With a small kitchen, I can cook my own dinner and spend less as I have to budget my expenses within the amount I get from the scholarship,” she said.

She will return home next month after finishing her studies.

Read the original story on the South China Morning Post