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

Wong’s desk, complete with a secret compartment on her stationery and toys, is really a rare commodity for families which are squeezed into cluttered, shoebox apartments.

“She used to only be able to do homework over a folding table that needed to be set aside at all times, however she could work and play from 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 together mother and grandmother, is among 70 low-income families that have benefitted from the project that aims to transform the living quarters of tiny flats with Furniture Hong Kong.

“Many grass-roots families don’t have the extra money to spend on furniture. Instead, they’ll hoard plenty of second-hand furniture regardless of whether it’s not too practical because they don’t know if they’ll be able to afford it in the future,” 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 approximately 120 low-income families with custom-made furniture, including desks, shelves and storage cupboards, plus give their property a mini-makeover by rearranging their living area.

Before the modification, Yan’s apartment barely had any walking space when folding tables were set up for dinner or homework.

A three-seater sofa that doubled being a bed for Yan’s elderly mother had blocked half the corridor that generated the kitchen and bathroom.

A big desk with little space for storage took up a lot of the living room area, whilst the floor was cluttered with multiple plastic boxes piled on the top of the other.

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

The team of architects rearranged the current furniture and designed the analysis desk and two new shelving units to put Yan’s living room area.

By utilising the high ceilings in old tenement houses, Yan’s family could use floor-to-ceiling storage as opposed to having storage boxes use up limited floor area.

Having an average four-year wait around for public housing and ever-increasing rents within the private sector, many residents who live below the poverty line are required to tolerate cramped 47dexlpky squalid living issues that range between cage homes to coffin cubicles.

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

The Society for Community Organisation’s project concentrates on families with education needs, in the hope that providing a passionate working space may help children focus better on the studies and eventually provide the family a chance to escape poverty.

“Most in the children we assist lie on a lawn or bed to perform their homework, and it’s not good for their health or development, but this project may 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 things to suit your family along with the peculiar layouts due to partitioned flats.

The furnishings, built with a contractor in mainland China, is made to be flexible so it can remain with your family if it moves into another subdivided flat or public housing.

“Based on their own daily habits, we see how our designs can match their demands. We wish to use furniture like a tool to further improve their space, as opposed to just providing new furniture,” architect Maggie Ma said.

The company’s personal strategy to the project is yet another key good reason why the firm fails to like working together with developers.

“What I realised [in building high rises] is so much of the procedure is controlled by market demand and what could pull in more income,” Ma said.

“In a means, they sacrifice some the user’s needs, therefore we wanted to search for designs which are more humane. This project actually makes us understand more about how people live and exactly what is most critical to them.”

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

“When you first of all transfer to a flat, you don’t really think a lot of in regards to the furniture. Everything was fine so long as we had space to put our things. However, we can observe how practical Dining Chairs Hong Kong 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 TV shows where you go to the home and they’ve totally transformed it into something very different. The ambition from the project is far more modest – to make small changes that may have a big influence on your family.”