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Four-year-old Vera Wong Zi-wei’s favourite possession isn’t the latest Disney princess doll, but her new study desk that suits in to the 200 sq ft subdivided flat in Sham Shui Po she calls home.

Wong’s desk, including a secret compartment on her stationery and toys, is actually a rare commodity for families that are squeezed into cluttered, shoebox apartments.

“She employed to only be capable of do homework with a folding table that had to be set aside all the time, but now she could work and play within the same space. It’s the first place she would go to when she gets home now,” Wong’s mother, Yan Nga-chi, said.

Coffin cubicles, caged homes and subdivisions … life inside Hong Kong’s grim low income housing

Wong, who lives along with her mother and grandmother, is one of 70 low-income families which have benefitted coming from a project that aims to change the living quarters of tiny flats with Furniture Hong Kong.

“Many grass-roots families don’t possess the extra revenue to invest on furniture. Instead, they’ll hoard a great deal of second-hand furniture even when it’s not so practical because they don’t determine they’ll be able to afford it down the road,” said social worker Angela Lui Yi-shan, who runs the project with human rights advocacy group Society for Community Organisation.

The HK$3 million home modification project, sponsored from the South China Morning Post since 2013, provides up to 120 low-income families with custom-made furniture, like desks, shelves and storage cupboards, and also give their residence a mini-makeover by rearranging their living space.

Prior to the modification, Yan’s apartment barely had any walking space when folding tables were build for dinner or homework.

A 3-seater sofa which also doubled as being a bed for Yan’s elderly mother had blocked half the corridor that triggered the bathroom and kitchen.

A big desk with little space for storing took up many of the living area, whilst the floor was cluttered with multiple plastic boxes piled along with each other.

Hong Kong’s poorest squeezed as rents for tiny subdivided flats rise at double rate for other homes

They of architects rearranged existing furniture and designed the study desk as well as 2 new shelving units to suit Yan’s living room.

By utilising the top ceilings in old tenement houses, Yan’s family could utilize floor-to-ceiling storage as an alternative to having storage boxes consume limited floor area.

By having an average four-year wait around for public housing and ever-increasing rents in the private sector, many residents who live underneath the poverty line have to tolerate cramped 47dexlpky squalid living issues that vary from cage homes to coffin cubicles.

Almost 200,000 people lived in many 88,000 subdivided units in 2015, as outlined by official figures.

The Society for Community Organisation’s project targets families with education needs, with the hope that providing a passionate working space can help children focus better on his or her studies and ultimately provide the family the chance to escape poverty.

“Most of the children we deal with lie on a lawn or bed to perform their homework, and it’s not best for their health or development, but this project will help change that,” Lui said.

DOMAT, the not-for-profit architecture firm that designs the Wood furniture Hong Kong, visits each family individually and makes items to suit the household along with the peculiar layouts as a result of partitioned flats.

The furniture, built from a contractor in mainland China, is designed to be flexible thus it can stay with the family if this moves into another subdivided flat or public housing.

“Based on his or her daily habits, we have seen how our designs can match their needs. We wish to use furniture as being a tool to further improve their space, rather than just providing new furniture,” architect Maggie Ma said.

The company’s personal approach to the project is another key reason why the firm fails to like utilizing developers.

“What I realised [in building high rises] is a lot of the process is controlled by market demand and what could generate more money,” Ma said.

“In a way, they sacrifice some the user’s needs, therefore we wanted to search for designs which can be more humane. This project actually causes us to be understand a little more about how people live and what exactly is most critical in their mind.”

Although she was compelled to move out from her apartment into another subdivided flat after the installation, Yan said the newest furniture had transformed her home.

“When you initially move into a flat, you don’t really think too much about the furniture. Everything was fine provided that we had space to put our things. However right now, we can easily discover how practical bar stool HK can be and the way it will make an improved liveable space,” she said.

Ma’s partner and fellow architect Mark Kingsley said: “It’s unlike those Shows where you get to your house and they’ve totally transformed it into something completely different. The ambition from the project is much more modest – to produce small changes that will have a big influence on the family unit.”