Deals on wheels: Housing prices drive young Chinese into RV living

AFP , Thursday 20 Jul 2023

With its open kitchen, bathtub and electric piano, Chinese e-commerce worker Twiggy He's home is the envy of her colleagues -- even if it is located in their office carpark.

Recreation vehicle (RV) refitting workshop owner Zhang Xi standing inside his vehicle in Shenzhen city, in southern China s Guangdong province on June 20, 2023 shows. AFP


The cheery yellow recreation van (RV), named "YOLO" (You Only Live Once), gives He a commute of two minutes from bed to desk, and has saved her thousands of yuan a month in tech hub Shenzhen, one of China's most expensive cities.

The 28-year-old is one of a growing number of young people in major cities who have taken one look at sky-high real estate prices and sought an alternative arrangement.

"I find living in an RV to be very freeing," He, who moved in four months ago, told AFP.

"It doesn't give me any anxiety about buying a house or make me feel I need to settle down... Maybe I'll even move to a new city in a few years."

Her monthly expenses have plummeted from when she rented an apartment, from around 2,500 yuan ($350) a month to 600 yuan, with parking only 20 yuan a day.

She does, though, have to rely on public facilities to use the toilet.

For Zhang Xi, who started living in an RV with his partner last May before opening a van renovation workshop, cost was the main push factor.

"Shenzhen's property prices are beyond the reach of ordinary folks like me," he told AFP.

A recent survey by a property research institute suggested Shenzhen's rent-to-income ratio has reached up to 49 percent, and buying is even worse.

On average, second-hand flats fetch 65,000 yuan per square metre -- nearly nine times the city's average monthly salary in the private sector.

Zhang and his wife plan to live in the van while they don't have children, saving around 3,000 yuan a month in rent and commuting.

They hope to put that money towards a down payment for a flat in a lower-tier city.

The walls of office worker Li Conghui's homey white van are lined with bunk beds, and drawings and photographs of his children, who live with their mother in a different city.

His wider family disapprove of his unconventional living situation.

"My wife is the only one who isn't against it," Li said. "But others don't understand where I'm coming from, they think it's too unusual."

Li has worked in Shenzhen for over a decade, but despite that "still couldn't get a sense of belonging" in the city.

"When I was living in a rented room, I didn't feel at home each time I went back," he said.

"But the RV is different. When I am inside this private space, I feel a sense of belonging."

Zhang agreed.

"It's felt just like a home to us," he said. "It's truly a place that belongs to us in Shenzhen."

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