Thinking inside the box: Hong Kong container homes could be on the way

Homeless Hongkongers may be housed in prefabricated containers as early as next year in an unprecedented temporary solution that a local NGO is discussing with several developers.

Property giant Henderson Land told the Post on Wednesday it was holding informal talks with the Council of Social Service, on building container homes. But finding land for the project would be difficult, it said.

The council’s chief executive, Chua Hoi-wai, did not confirm Henderson’s involvement, but revealed that developers were willing to lease land at a token rate of HK$1 for the whole plot – if they could find a site.

The plan was to build brand new container homes ranging from 160 to 320 sq ft in size, which could each house two to five people, according to the NGO. They would be rented at cheap rates to families on the waiting list for public housing.

Up to four containers could be stacked to form a multi-storey block, modelled on similar concepts in Europe.

Secretary for Development Michael Wong Wai-lun said the government had no particular stance on building container homes, a day after the council unveiled another temporary housing plan which involves sharing flats.

That government-backed plan will provide 500 flats for 1,000 poor households over a three-year period, with several families sharing flats and each person getting a minimum living area of 7 square metres.

“If we identify a piece of land suitable for residential use, we have to consider whether to develop it as temporary or permanent housing,” Wong said on Wednesday.

“Even if we go forward with temporary housing, there are problems relating to transport and the environment to address.”

Legislator Andrew Wan Siu-kin, who recently visited Britain and the Netherlands to learn about those countries’ experiences with prefabricated housing, said container homes would have to be tailor-made for the city.

“Hong Kong has more precipitation and hotter weather,” Wan said. “So the materials for such containers must be more resistant to wear and tear by weather changes … and have better insulation. “Air conditioning is also required for Hong Kong, unlike in Europe.”

He said city building laws did not provide for assembling prefabricated, multi-storey homes on construction sites, and legal exemptions would have to be made for the plan to go ahead.

Council members have yet to identify a suitable plot after several site visits, but said they hoped to find one that can be leased for at least two years for temporary housing.