What it's like in a "goshiwon", a 50-square-foot Seoul microapartment

An option, sure. Not a good option, though. Especially when, as in Hong Kong, you start getting more than one person packed into a sub-200sqf space.

People always look for those options. Boarding houses, SROs, college dorms, roommate-heavy apartments, hot-bunking sleep shifts, etc. The question is, do sub-200SQF apartments like this (or WeWork/WeLive style situations) really turn out to be the cheapest possible accommodations in comparison to the other options?

There’s the core problem. Really you’re assigning a dollar price on the square foot in these cities no matter how large or small the space actually is. There are ways to address this problem, but when greedpig developers and NIMBYs [ETA: and “free”-market fundies] call the shots in these cities the push will continue to be toward smaller and smaller spaces at still near-unaffordable rates.

Yeah, I think the next step is charging a premium rent for these tiny spaces in new construction based on the presence of “luxury” amenities (gyms, party rooms, etc.) that no-one ends up using because they’re working 14 hours every weekday to pay for 8 hours of sleep in a narrow bed at night.


“Of the 12 market-rate units currently up for grabs (five more will become available over the next month), none is cheaper than $2,540 a month…”

You betcha!


In Japan, at least, it seems that the cost of housing (whether rent or condo prices) increases logarithmically as floor area increases, such that a 60 square meter unit will be around 1.5 times the price of a 50 square meter unit, even within the same building or complex of buildings. Perhaps that is because there is such a wide range of unit sizes available, even within the same building.


I give it five years post-Covid before there are an average two people to a micro-apartment in that building.


Sixty thousand people applied for a subsidised slot.

In one building in NYC. That’s how many single, working people can’t afford market-rate Manhattan rents for a space half the size of a standard studio apartment.

It probably works that way in the U.S. too. The point is that the base rate alone is still near-unaffordable in these cities. That’s the real issue.


Odd that you lump developers and NIMBYs together, since they’re usually at cross purposes. Developers are all about maximizing profit by building the largest possible buildings with the most units to sell/rent out on a given lot size. NIMBYs generally want to keep development to a minimum to preserve the character of their neighborhoods, avoid increased traffic on their streets, and keep their property values high.


On a sub-sub-sub lease at 300% of the original lease rate and without the keycards to access the amenities.


Can anything be done about the base rate other than building a lot more buildings with a lot more units?

With cities like San Francisco and New York, are the prices so high because so many people want to live there or are the prices so high because developers and NIMBY folk are creating artificial scarcity of housing? Or both? In Tokyo (well, parts of Tokyo anyway, but still fairly centrally located), you can get a 30 or 40 square meter place (small, but good enough for many, including those raising families) for half of the price of anything in NY or SF, and the only reason that I can think of for why is that Tokyo has more units, and Tokyo has more units because it has more smaller units.

I bought a condo a couple of years back and it is 67 square meters (about 720 square feet), which still feels just huge to me. I simply don’t know what to do with all of this space, even with a wife and a 2 year-old. I bought it outright, but the realtor said that the going rate for rent would be around 1,000 USD or so. And this is in a central area of a city of 1.5 million, right next to a train station with a 30 minute journey to downtown Osaka (which is a city the size of Los Angeles).


In the end, what they have in common is keeping property values high. That’s the real driving force in most desirable large American cities.

At least you don’t have to worry about the keycard issue in the “poor door” subsidised units.

Rent control and required set-asides of affordable and/or subsidised units and better/more public transit, off the top of my head. Adding more high-density housing definitely helps, but the new construction doesn’t have to trend toward micro-units like this.

Just to be clear, I have no issue with small-space living (within limits, maybe 400sqf minimum for the typical Western individual), and think that Americans have a sense of entitlement to McMansion-style spaces that people in Japan and Europe just don’t.

Both. The “free”-market fundies will reduce it all to supply and demand, but it’s not that simple. Yes, NYC has effectively been in the “housing emergency” situation that began during WWII, and yes, it’s obviously a desirable city. However, most American housing policy is grounded in the idea that property values need to keep rising, either for appreciation of the main retirement asset available to most Americans who can afford to save/invest (read: pay a mortgage) or to benefit the revenue streams of landlords or developers.


I can think of another couple of reasons.

In Tokyo the median household income is somewhere in the neighborhood of $55k-$72k (depending on the source, I found a couple). In San Francisco the median household income is over $112k. You’d naturally expect a higher-salary city to charge a bit more for rent. (Not that it’s a reasonable price, mind you.)

Tokyo is 847 square miles with about 16,500 people per square mile. San Francisco is just 45 square miles, with 19,443 people per square mile. So, overall, SF is already denser than Tokyo, although the Tokyo city center probably is more dense than the SF city center.


That’s another important factor to take into account. Real wages haven’t kept up with increases in housing prices in these cities since the early 1970s (see also the cost of a post-secondary education).

It’s part of the rip-off that’s making the U.S an increasingly poor rich country [cross-posting from the Commie Memes topic]:


Not to mention some fine potables.


The new 300-400 square foot condos in San Francisco are vacation units that get bought by rich people who live far away. And of course airbnbs. They are designed to have just enough storage for a few suitcases. Because of ADA codes requiring wheelchair access, the bathrooms are like half the apartment.

The developer goal is to make them look like affordable housing for locals. The politicians eat it up and shower them with subsidies because it sorta kinda looks like a solution to the housing crisis from a distance.




Logarithmic growth is less than linear. For example, for log base 10 you could plot the points (10,1), (100,2), (1000,3). The numbers you give suggest something more than linear. Maybe exponential, aka geometric? For example, exponential with a base of 10 would give the points (1,10), (2,100), (3,1000).

You are describing the same thing with the x-axis and the y-axis flipped, are you not?

Logarithmic growth where the y-axis indicates floor area is the same as exponential growth where the y-axis indicates price.

Yes. Good point. Flipping the axes changes logarithmic to exponential and vice versa.

I should have thought to say the following explicitly in my first post. By default, mathematicians tend to put the dependent variable on the y-axis. Since we’re thinking about price being the determined by the floor area, mathematicians will tend to put price on the y-axis. If you put area on the y-axis and show it to a mathematician, you may find them wondering how the owner moves the walls to make the room the right size for the amount of money you are offering them. :grinning:


I’d be checking the number of fire escapes. With rooms that small, there could be an awful lot of people per floor.

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I wouldn’t worry. There’s not even enough space for a fire!

Math is fun like that, isn’t it? Does the floor space determine the price or do the property developers determine the floor space of the units so that they can then price them accordingly?

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Is it a cultural thing that everyone has to have their own toilet, bathroom sink, and shower? Why can’t permanent apartments be set up more like hostels or college dorms? Especially for short-termers, like the exam-preppers seem to be.

I’m 200% certain that building codes and/or zoning here in Portland OR would prevent it. But rules are changeable, whereas bodies per square mile are kinda solid.

I keep reading that as “in my screams”.