Hong Kong is a special zone with a free economy and has incredibly low taxes, minimum corporate tax, and no VAT; it attracts investors worldwide. As one of the four Asian tigers, Hong Kong people can be proud of their economic status.
However, living in Hong Kong is more expensive than anywhere else.
Tens of thousands of its residents have to live in car-parking-sized subdivided flats. Most notably, they have to pay up to $500 monthly rent for what’s literally a cage to call home.
These wretched places are known as a cage or coffin homes. These are boxy, partitioned units stacked floor-to-ceiling, separated by thin wood panels or wire mesh.
The Hong Kong authorities legally recognize cage houses but label them as “sleeping space apartments.”
They are defined as “Any flat in which 12 or more bed spaces are occupied or intended to be occupied under rental agreements.”
The city has about 110,000 subdivided apartments, mostly dilapidated buildings in Kowloon and the New Territories. There are even three-generation households living in those apartments.
The Association of Community Organizations (SoCO) interviewed 432 households living in tiny spaces last April. They found the rents for traditional subdivided apartments ranged from $785 to $828 (HK$4500 to HK$6500). A tiny bed space is about $293 and about $360 for a cubicle.
Rent accounts for about a third of these tenants’ monthly household income.
The Housing and Transport Bureau’s 2020 report shows that these households have an average monthly income of just over $1,900, less than half the income of all other homes in that year.
Workers cannot afford to buy homes while living in the world’s most expensive real estate city. So their best hope is to get a public rental apartment. But the queues for public rental housing are so long that it can take decades to get one.
More than 220,000 people are living in the worst housing in HK. This situation is a kind of inhumane. The physical and mental health of these people is severely affected. Depression, cockroaches, ticks, no sense of belonging, and finally, inferiority makes life hell for these people.
Tsang Shiu-Tung, 51, told the South China Morning Post that he felt helpless after having queued for 16 years for public housing. The pandemic has reduced part-time porters to earning less than $1270 a month.
He said 18 compartments were stacked on two floors in his divided apartment. Male tenants between the ages of 40 and 80 share two bathrooms, only one of which has a shower. There is no kitchen.
His upper bunk space is so narrow that he can hardly stretch out fully or sit up straight without hitting the wooden partition, only for the man in the lower bunk to kick upwards to signal his frustration.
Some men stay up late, others smoke in the house, and the smell of cigarettes is strong. But there’s nothing else he could do. Sometimes he had to sleep in the park to avoid returning to his cage house.
He said, “I live like an animal in a cage, I want to escape from this place where I feel so helpless. All I want is a safe place to live.”
46-year-old Xing Aizhen, and her two sons from her first marriage, 20 and 15, share a space that barely fits two beds. Her $1274 (HK$10,000) income from a part-time job couldn’t help her buy anything but pay almost $500 in rent.
Their bathroom and kitchen are practically the same space. Xing Aizhen said she could smell the stench of the toilet while preparing the food.
There are only two small windows, which are not well ventilated, so the fried food leaves a strong, greasy smell. As a result, Xing Aizhen boils or steams their meals.