BY Roznah Abdul Jabbar
In the olden days, the mark of a luxurious home was its size and spaciousness. These days, though, the concept of opulence seems to have expanded (or shrunk) to include microhomes dressed in modern lifestyle and convenience.
The number of small home units has been rising in the past years. Commonly ranging from 350sq ft to 600sq ft and priced from RM250,000 to RM650,000, these dwellings are favoured by certain groups such as the singles, young professionals, young couples and retirees.
In Malaysia, projects with small units started in affluent locations such as Sri Hartamas, Mont’ Kiara, Damansara, Subang Jaya and KL city centre, and are currently expanding to suburban locations.
Examples of such projects are Verve Suites, Mont’ Kiara; Ritze Perdana, Metropolitan Square, NEO Damansara and Empire Damansara at Damansara Perdana; Windsor Tower, Mayfair Apartment and The Residence at Sri Hartamas; and The Elements@ Ampang, Marc Residence, M City and Regalia at KL city centre.
Microhousing offers proximity to jobs and entertainment, typically centred in large, overcrowded urban areas.
In cities like New York, the large population of singles and young couples have accepted the concept of microhousing as it is convenient for them, while families generally prefer to commute from suburban areas to avoid the costly expenses of city living. Is the convenience accorded really worth the sacrifice of space?
Studies show that personal space is closely linked to psychological wellbeing, where an invasion of this space could result in psychological distress.
The study, which was done by Calvin Gwandure of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, showed that those who live in small homes reported higher levels of anxiety, depression, conduct disorder, and addictive and risky behaviour.
“These findings could provide a basis for the argument that limited privacy and lack of adequate shelter can have the same psychological effects as any other forms of violence against children,” the report said.
The findings were supported by a renowned psychologist in Malaysia, Dr Kader Ibrahim.
Kader said there are effects in terms of lack of motivation and self-esteem which are related to the lack of privacy in these homes, as well as anxiety and stress related to the minimal space they have when they are growing up.
“The smaller the space, the higher the stress level,” he said.
However, he said there is not much research done to prove these concretely as development in children is often subjective.
“Children living in small space typically experience lack of motivation, but there are a lot of successful people who are from these backgrounds,” he said.
Another psychologist from a private medical centre in KL said the area size where the child resides has no correlation with the child’s wellbeing. A child’s development is decided by his/her temperament, parenting and attachment styles.
“Healthy children can also come from single mums and couples who can’t afford housing. It’s not the material things that matter but the quality of care-giving and attention,” she said.
The National House Buyers Association (HBA), which is not in favour of these microhomes, said that Malaysia does not have to follow cities like Singapore as we have vast landbank.
HBA’s secretary-general Chang Kim Loong said that even though microhomes provide accessibility to singles who prefer lodging near their workplace, such homes would be inappropriate and unhealthy for raising a family.
“Raising kids in these homes would deprive them of an all-rounded and well-balanced environment where children can play and interact with friends in open spaces and build friendships,” he said.
Comparing microhomes in Singapore, Chang said low-cost housing in Malaysia at 650sq ft used to be considered a “pigeon hole”, whereas Singapore has microhomes at 350sq ft, which is about half that size, because Singapore has very limited space.
Chang added that these microhomes will only force families to have their meals outside at the public park, which is currently practiced by small unit owners in Shanghai, China.
He said that privacy and space are important aspects of human living, along with a healthy social life.
Chang said community bonding is formed when individuals are balanced and at peace with themselves, not forced upon.
“Yes, we like to have our social life, but we still need privacy. If there is limited or no private space to go to, where do we get our alone-time?
“Shouldn’t we improve our social environment and living conditions for our young generation? After all, we have the land for that in our country and we do not have to resort to microhomes,” he said.
Chang said lifestyle could be the reason for the popularity of microhomes, but the main reason is affordability. A microhome unit could cost about RM300,000, which is almost half of the price of a double-storey terrace house.
However, he said, pricing alone is deceiving as house buyers may actually be paying a higher price for a significantly smaller house.
“The concept started when developers foresaw that house prices would escalate and thought “out of the box” to provide the so-called affordable housing in the guise of microhomes,” he said.
He added that developers would reduce the size and the price of these homes and simultaneously increase the number of units for sale, thus compensating for the loss.
He questions whether it is profit goals that are driving a false demand for microhomes.