Cheap Rentals for Chinese Youth: Capsule Apartments Out; Human Ant Farms In


capsule apartment beijingIn a world of rising rental prices, shrinking square footage and fewer amenities, it's borderline shocking that China's infamous capsule apartments aren't cutting the mustard.

Designed primarily to help low-income recent graduates gain a toehold in one of the country's most expensive cities, the tiny 8-by-4-foot rooms located on the outskirts of Beijing were available for as little as $40 a month. Hailed as a solution to China's skyrocketing housing costs and high level of homelessness, the capsule apartments offered a reprieve, albeit a small one, for those with no fiscal alternatives.

Which is why it comes as a surprise that some are being torn down. And where capsule apartments fail, many low-income Chinese residents are hoping "ant tribes" succeed.


A report by China's Global Times newspaper reveals that several tenants of the Haidian District's capsule apartments were evicted when the building was demolished for failure to meet the city of Beijing's new regulation that high-rise apartments encompass at least 7.5 meters (approximately 25 square-feet) of space. Currently, designer Huang Rixin is seeking new places to build more of his capsule facilities.

According to an Associated Press article, certain buildings are getting around the space requirement by creating slightly larger rooms built for multiple tenants. The so-called "ant tribes," are typically about 50 square-feet -- approximately the size of a walk-in closet -- shared by two to three tenants. At $45 to $100 a month (plus an extra $15 if your tribe wants a private bathroom), rent is low, but so is privacy, hygiene and luxuries like heating and air conditioning.

Even at such an economical price, those who live in ant tribes are far from lucky. Located in suburban slums, the facilities are so low-grade, they most likely would be condemned in the United States. Most residents share public bathrooms, split twin-size bunk beds and constantly fight the dirt, debris and disease that sweep through the buildings. For those taking China's notoriously low entry-level salaries -- which can frequently sit at less than $200 a month -- there are few other choices.

"We have no alternatives," an ant tribe resident stated in an interview with the The Wall Street Journal. Zhao Lei, a 24-year-old computer-science major, shares a 130-square-foot room with five roommates, split among three bunk beds. "This is a place we can afford with our meager income ... when we first step into society."

According to the book "Ant Tribe," written by the University of International Business and Economics professor who coined the term, Dr. Lian Si, China's ant community is somewhere close to 1 million with more underemployed graduates added every day. While the U.S. is experiencing the problem on a much smaller scale with our current 9.3 percent unemployment rate, we're still a significant ways from cramming three Harvard grads into a room the size of a small vehicle.

What do you think readers, could you live in an ant tribe without going nuts?

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