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

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

“She used to only be able to do homework on a folding table that needed to be set aside on a regular basis, but now she could work and play from the same space. It’s the initial place she goes 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 one of 70 low-income families that have benefitted from your project that aims to change the living quarters of tiny flats with Furniture shop in Hong Kong.

“Many grass-roots families don’t hold the extra revenue to invest on furniture. Instead, they’ll hoard a lot of second-hand furniture regardless of whether it’s not very practical since they don’t determine if they’ll have the ability 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 through the South China Morning Post since 2013, provides up to 120 low-income families with custom-made furniture, such as desks, shelves and storage cupboards, and in addition give their house a mini-makeover by rearranging their living area.

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

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

A large desk with little space for storage took up most of the living area, while the floor was cluttered with multiple plastic boxes piled in addition to one another.

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 research desk as well as two new shelving units to match Yan’s living room.

By utilising the top ceilings in old tenement houses, Yan’s family could use floor-to-ceiling storage as an alternative to having storage boxes take up limited floor space.

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

Almost 200,000 people lived in a few 88,000 subdivided units in 2015, according to official figures.

The Society for Community Organisation’s project is focused on families with education needs, with the hope that providing a dedicated working space may help children focus better on his or her studies and in the end offer the family the opportunity to escape poverty.

“Most of your children we work together with lie on the ground or bed to complete their homework, and it’s not best for their own 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 items to suit your family and the peculiar layouts resulting from partitioned flats.

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

“Based on their daily habits, we have seen how our designs can match the requirements. We should use furniture as being a tool to further improve their space, as opposed to just providing new furniture,” architect Maggie Ma said.

The company’s personal procedure for the project is another key reasons why the firm fails to like working with developers.

“What I realised [in building high rises] is that so much of the process is controlled by market demand and what can bring in more cash,” Ma said.

“In a way, they sacrifice a certain amount of the user’s needs, so that we wanted to look for designs that are more humane. This project actually causes us to be understand a little more about how people live and what exactly is most significant for them.”

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

“When you initially move into a flat, you don’t think too much in regards to the furniture. Everything was fine provided that we had space to put our things. However, we can observe how practical bar stool HK could be and how it will make a greater living area,” she said.

Ma’s partner and fellow architect Mark Kingsley said: “It’s unlike those TV shows where you visit your house and they’ve totally transformed it into something very different. The ambition from the project is more modest – to create small changes that can have a big impact on the family unit.”