Here's what I learned: A "Hostel" is a budget style hotel usually with dorm style rooms. The world is full of these as a visit to http://www.hostelworld.com/ will show you. These seem to cater to the young and "backpaker" crowds.
When you look up budget hotels in Hong Kong, you'll find lots of things called "hostels." In the language of Hong Kong these are licensed as guest houses and there seems to be a lot of variety in terms of quality and features. In Kowloon they are found in "mansions." These are not mansions in the high gables Hollywood Hills sort of way. Rather these are 15 to twenty story buildings roughly the shape of a city block. The lower levels they are filled with shops and vendors. The upper levels have businesses, private residences ,and guest houses.
We stayed in two: The Cosmic Guest House in Mirador Mansion and The Angel Guest House in Chunk King Mansion. In some ways they were the same. The rooms were tiny, they were cheap (About $35 per night,) they both offered rooms with and without bathrooms, and they both offered double locking doors. That is to say, an outer locking door to your hallway and then an inner locking door to your room.
Our room at the Cosmic Guesthouse.
What differed was the staff. Minxi had made the arrangements for the Cosmic before I arrived. The lady who ran the place changed the prices abruptly when she saw that I was a Westerner and not Chinese as she had assumed. She also decided, when she saw that Minxi had Chinese money on her, that she couldn't take Hong Kong Dollars only Yuan. The exchange rate was better and she was going to make about $1.00 more dollar on our stay. She also failed to fix the broken toilet in the hall. We talked to her briefly when we got back from China. She showed us a room with an included toilet but wanted twice as much. Fed up, I refused. She she sensed that the deal was slipping away and, asked in English, "Well, how much can you pay?" Wrong question. We left and walked down to Chung King Mansion where we found the Angel. Minxi spent the next two days laughing to herself and repeating, "We could pay 3000 Yuan but I don't like you." Harrumph. I got a little grouchy with the Cosmic lady.
The Angel staff was exactly the opposite. They weren't effusively friendly or anything but they took our visit seriously and let us keep the room for the remainder of the stay for the same price they offered the first night even though that meant letting us have the weekend for the week day rate. Adil was our host. He was an Indian with fair English. He spent most of the time hanging out in the hall talking to this guy from Tonga who had rented a room for the month. Adil had the bad habit of leaving the outer door open a crack but made up for it by sleeping in the hallway on a small mattress at night. It was awkward creeping over him in the morning but we definitely felt safe.
The hallways of the mansions can be pretty gross but the Angel itself was pretty clean and they kept hot water and a small fridge on hand. I give them a 4 out of 5. It was a good place to stay
Lonely Planet has a listing for them here
If you do happen to spend the night there be sure to tell them that the Hong Kong Honky sent you. It won't mean anything now but maybe I'll pick up a discount next time I'm in town.