Jay Walder in Hong Kong: If He Thought the Upper West Side Was Pricey…

cnbc worlds exp places 2011 hongkong Jay Walder in Hong Kong: If He Thought the Upper West Side Was Pricey...

It looks pretty at night, at least.

Last year, The Observer reported that relatively new (he was nine months in) M.T.A. chief Jay Walder and his wife had bought on the Upper West Side near five subway lines. The couple paid $1.599 million for a condo with three bedrooms, a lot of natural light, a big master suite with double sinks, and a walk-in closet. It was the sort of apartment a New Yorker could settle into for the long haul.

Now, though, with Mr. Walder decamping for Hong Kong, what of it? We don’t know yet. But we do know that he might find $1.599 million a steal for a nice three-bedroom in his next city.

Hong Kong is one of the world’s most expensive housing markets, with relative costs that dwarf those of Manhattan (not to mention a general cost of living that puts us to shame—is that the right word?—as well: On its latest survey of the costliest cities, consultancy Mercer ranked Hong Kong No. 9 and New York No. 32).

Not only is the housing pricey in Hong Kong (average apartments go for around $3,000), it’s kind of … bad. And not bad as in four post-college roommates sharing a two-bedroom walk-up on the edge of some New York neighborhood that The Times routinely labels “emerging.”

From The Wall Street Journal a couple of days ago:

[A] blaze swept through an eight-story building in the city’s Kowloon section that consisted mainly of apartments subdivided into rental units as small as 100 square feet, a typical arrangement in older city districts. Even smaller “cage” or “coffin” units have as many as three beds stacked in a 30-square-foot space.

Demand for subdivided flats has surged in the last few years as record-high home prices have squeezed low-income families into into smaller quarters. But the crowding is posing public-safety and other risks.

Housing costs in Hong Kong have jumped during the global recession by nearly 80 percent, creating a city of seven million that’s rich on one end and poor on the other, with not much else in the middle. In other words, you either have the $3,000 for the rental or the $1 million-plus for the purchase; or you are in truly in dire straits.

Mr. Walder, understandably, should fall on the latter end of that spectrum, besting with the move, according to sources, his annual M.T.A. salary of $350,000.

tacitelli@observer.com  ::  Follow on Twitter @tacitelli