- Posted December 1, 2013 by
100,000 People Living in Metal Cages in Hong Kong
What’s worse is that the cages don’t come for free either. Stacked on top of each other, the 1.5 sq m enclosuress can be rented at a price of 1,300 Hong Kong dollars (about US $167) per month. These cages are crammed into a single dilapidated apartment in a working-class neighborhood in West Kowloon. Believe it or not, these metal living quarters are home to a whopping 100,000 people, according to statistics provided by a social welfare group called the Society for Community Organization. Other types of inadequate housing include apartments subdivided into tiny cubicles or filled with coffin-sized wood and metal sleeping compartments as well as rooftop shacks. Only two toilet stalls are available in each apartment and have to be shared by hundreds of single, elderly men, who make up the majority of the cage-occupants. No kitchen as such is provided; there’s only a small room with a sink. Almost all the men wash their clothes in a bucket. Instead of using mattresses, the men use thin pads, bamboo mats or old linoleum in their cages to keep the bedbugs away.
Leung Cho-yin is one of them. The 67-year-old former butcher says, “I’ve been bitten so much, I’m used to it.” Revealing a red mark on his hand, he says, “There’s nothing you can do about it. I’ve got to live here. I’ve got to survive.” Leung has been living in a cage for 20 years now, ever since he stopped working after losing part of a finger. He didn’t have much of an education to fall back on, so he has only been able to find intermittent work. He has no family and doesn’t want to apply for public housing because he’d have to leave his cage-mates and live alone. So he expects to spend the rest of his life in the cage.
It’s not that the people who do apply for public housing get to move out quickly. A recent survey revealed that almost 75% of 500 low-income families have been on the list for over 4 years without being given a flat. 63-year-old Lee Tat-fong is one of them. She hopes that she and her two grandchildren can get out of their cubicle apartment as soon as possible. In spite of suffering from diabetes and back problems, she has been taking care of the young children ever since their father disappeared. Their mother hasn’t been able to get a permit to come to Hong Kong from mainland China. For now, the family-of-three lives in a 50 sq ft room, one-seventh of an existing apartment. The communal kitchen and two toilets are shared with the other residents. “There’s too little space here,” she says. “We can barely breathe. It’s exhausting and sometimes I get so pent up with anger that I cry, but no one sees because I hide away.”
Home prices in Hong Kong rose 23% in the first 10 months of 2012, and have doubled since 2008. Rental values have suffered the same fate as well. Low interest rates and easy credit are one of the many causes for this. Because of these soaring costs, decent homes become unaffordable to a large percentage of the population leading to anger and resentment towards the government. Things were pretty bad until Hong Kong’s ex-chief executive Donald Tsang held office. Many say that he ignored the problem completely. But ever since Leung Chun-ying took over last July, things have been looking up because he has acknowledged the issue and is trying to fix it. “Many families have to move into smaller or older flats, or even factory buildings,” he said. “Cramped living space in cage homes, cubicle apartments and sub-divided flats has become the reluctant choice for tens of thousands of Hong Kong people.” Chun-ying recently unveiled plans to boost the supply of public housing. Unfortunately, most of the cage dwellers have little or no faith in what the government can do for them.