Hong Kong is considering something pretty unusual to help deal with a massive shortage of real estate for development and housing: an “underground excavation.” While you might cringe at the idea of living underground as something out of a dystopian novel, the Chinese government is taking a practical approach to its housing shortage and considering moving not the population, but the public services into large, underground caverns. According to CNBC, the experiment will start in crowded Hong Kong with the transfer of water and sewage treatment plants, data centers, and reservoirs underground to make more room above ground for people to live, expanding China’s real estate.

The Spurring of Hong Kong’s Move

Hong Kong has been considering the move since the 1980s. And thanks to a recent population jump, above 7 million, the time to move may be now. The city is predicting it will continue to grow at a rate of about 3.7 percent both economically and in terms of population, if it can find somewhere for that population to live. “All the urban flat land in Hong Kong is already built-up area,” observed a geotechnical engineer in the area. A related report indicates that the best option for creating more space for residential housing is to move public services underground and repurpose the existing physical structures as residences.

The Chinese government has already earmarked funds for this transition and associated feasibility studies. 48 caverns already have earmarks and there are six prospective studies underway at present.

U.S. Housing Shortages

As 2017 winds to a close, a number of U.S. cities are looking for creative solutions to their housing shortages as well. For example, while protestors in East Palo Alto, California, protested evictions of homeless families from an informal RV park in early November, West Coast cities desperately seek solutions to the near-total lack of affordable housing in the metro areas. Recent California wildfires only exacerbated the issue with the loss of roughly 14,000 homes in northern California in October.

“The problem is largely self-inflicted,” observed New York Times reporter Enrico Moretti. “The region has some of the country’s slowest, most political, and cumbersome housing approval processes and most stringent land-use restrictions.” Families are opting to live so far away from the city centers where their income-earners work that they are not even living in the suburbs, but in something called the “exurbs.” Investors who can either offer housing opportunities in these metro areas or spot the next growing exurb may have the best chance at creating profitable portfolios in areas with housing shortages. Or, you could simply start building underground, if you can get the permits for it.

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  • Carole VanSickle Ellis

    Carole VanSickle Ellis serves as the news editor and COO of Self-Directed Investor (SDI) Society, a membership organization dedicated to the needs of self-directed investors interested in alternative investment vehicles, including real estate. Learn more at SelfDirected.org or reach Carole directly by emailing Carole@selfdirected.org.

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