Vietnam News

HCMC’s ‘sleep boxes’ are uncharted territory for Vietnam

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“Sleep boxes” measuring two square meters are a trending housing option in HCMC for people with low incomes, but they lack safety from fire and other hazards.

For the last six months Duc Phu, 20, a college sophomore, has been living in one such in a five-story building on Nguyen Thien Thuat Street in Binh Thanh District.

A room measuring 40 sq.m is divided into 30 sleeping areas on two levels. People move between the levels using ladders, and there is a 30-cm aisle for walking. Each tenant gets a bed enclosed by curtains for privacy.

For VND2 million ($81.37) a month, including water, parking and Wi-Fi, Phu believes it is money well spent despite the inconveniences of living with strangers.

Around 20 people take turns to use the toilet or do laundry.

Phu says a 15 sq.m apartment nearby will cost him VND3 million a month, with electricity, water and Wi-Fi costs driving it up to VND6 million.

Since he is at school or work most of the time and only returns at 8 p.m., he regards it simply as a place to sleep and study and is not bothered about the size.

“If I live in a sleep box, my parents do not have to send me money every month. I will try to make do for a couple of years, and find another place after I graduate.”

Sleeping pods originated in airports for passengers to rest between flights. But starting 2021 this accommodation model has been growing in popularity in HCMC. While there are no concrete numbers for how many there are, one can easily find them advertised online, both in inner and suburban areas.

Monthly rents range from VND1.8 million to VND2.2 million.

Vu Quoc Tuan has been operating 11 of them with around 200 beds in several districts.

He has even obtained intellectual property for his model from the National Office of Intellectual Property.

The model has pods spanning 2.2 sq.m each enclosed by fire-resistant plastic or wood or aluminum. The beds are installed on steel frames also for fire safety. A 15-30 sq.m room has 6-10 pods.

The electric sockets in the rooms cut themselves off in case of overload. Appliances like refrigerators and washing machines are placed in a separate area.

Tuan says these rooms are typically 90% full.

A room costs him VND200 million a year, including appliances, a common kitchen and rent. If the rooms are at least 80% full, there will be profits in three years, he says.

Nguyen Duc Loc, head of the Social Life Institute, says demand for cheap apartments rises during difficult economic times.

The sleeping pods are ideal for students and single people, but they have inherent safety risks, especially fire hazards.

The narrow aisles inside the rooms also make it difficult for people to escape in case of a fire.

Authorities recently found a five-story building with 125 beds in Binh Thanh District that did not have emergency escapes or a fire safety system.

An official from the Ministry of Public Security’s fire prevention evaluation division says the modules are in regular houses, and so there are no specific fire safety regulations for them, making them difficult to manage.

Rooms measuring 20-30 m2 with dozens of people in them without emergency escapes or fire safety systems will be very dangerous in case of a fire, they say.

Le Bich Trang, director of the Hoang Quan Phat Company that provides consultation and designs for fire prevention construction, says sleeping pods are only appropriate for stations and airports with their voluminous space.

For the model to be sustainable, investors need to make sure it satisfies fire safety, space and escape criteria, she says.

While these regulations do not exist in Vietnam yet, safety criteria used in other countries could be applied, she says, adding while only now becoming popular in HCMC, it is “an old model in several countries.”

Tuan says there need to be standards for the model based on those adopted for dorms since they are similar to each other.

Those who build sleeping pods need to use fire-resistant materials and have measures to shut down power when needed as well as means of escape in case of mishaps.

By Dinh Van – – October 28, 2023

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