CDotD: Cage Homes!!

Posted by man_14_70904 in Nov 20, 2011, under Citizen Journalism

This is not meant to be a laughing matter whatsoever, and I hate to bring down the levity of the CDotD posts, but upon learning about cage homes in Hong Kong, I was so mortified I had to learn more and share what I found.

The annual Hong Kong Art Walk recently came and went, and while I still have yet to participate in this high brow pub crawl, as it’s come to be known, I came to learn more about the cause this charity event serves — The Society for Community Organization (or “SoCO”).  One of SoCO’s causes is the Cage Homes and Private Housing Residents Project, which seeks to assist the more than 100,000 cage home  (and other similarly sub-par housing) residents, and get them into proper housing.

That’s right — cage homes.  A significant population in Hong Kong live in 15 square foot cubicles, typically with 8 cramming into one such cage — sometimes even more!  From the articles I read, bathroom situations for such “homes” are dingy unsanitary situations, shared by too many and the kitchen situation is also fairly sketchy. 

These subpar “homes” were devised in the 1940s to deal with a wave of desperate Chinese refugees fleeing civil war on the mainland.  Indeed, my own family came to Hong Kong from China in the 1950s (not long after the Japanese occupation of WWII, which I only learned about when visiting the HK History Museum!).  They did not live in a cage home, by any means, but there were a family of 5 (not sure what other extended family members joined them on top of this) who lived in a very tiny 1-BR apartment in Kowloon somewhere.  My granny told me how they had to pack up their beds by day, and were really crammed into a tiny space.  This was and remains uncommon today.

The extreme cost of housing in Hong Kong is no secret to anyone, though these cage homes are news to me.  Worse, with some cage rents beins as high as HK$1,500 a month (almost US$ 200!), the cost per square foot of these nasty spaces far exceed those of some mansions in Hong Kong’s exclusive Peak district where many local tycoons reside.

The best demonstration of this horrific housing condition is best done in photos than words, so I invite you to check out the exhibit SoCO displayed in the 2009 ArtWalk, and if you are inclined, please make a much needed donation to help lift the more than 100,000 HK residents who reside in spaces below 60 square feet!

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Cage Homes in Hong Kong

Posted by man_14_70904 in Nov 20, 2011, under Citizen Journalism

I just hope this is not the MODEL that is being imposed upon all of us
Hong Kong, China — If you have ever complained that your apartment is the size of a shoebox, consider the living space of Hong Kong resident Chung For Lau.

Chung lives in a 625 square foot (58.06 square meter) flat here with 18 strangers.

The place is sectioned into tiny cubicles made of wooden planks and wire mesh. Everything he has acquired over the years — clothes, dishes, figurines, a tired TV set — is squeezed into this tiny cube, a modernized version of what is known here as a cage home.

With all the buzz over Hong Kong’s exorbitant luxury property (like the recent record-breaking sale of a $57 million duplex), it may be hard to believe that people have been living in cage homes in this city for years.

But with Hong Kong home to some of the most densley-populated urban districts in the world, real estate has always come at a premium, no matter how small.

Chung’s cage is a newer yet less-desirable model, we are told. The wire mesh one, which resembles an over-sized rabbit hutch, is apparently more comfortable.

Occupants have less privacy, but the temperatures don’t get as high as in the wooden-mesh variety. A thermometer in Chung’s home reached 34 degrees Celsius (93 degrees Fahrenheit). Sometimes it gets so hot, Chung said, that he wants to die.

Chung used to be a security guard. In the good old days he earned about $500 (HK$3,875) per month. But as the economic crisis set in, his full time job went to part time work until he was laid off this past summer.

As he stared into his bank passbook, Chung lamented that he wouldn’t be able to make the $150 rent (HK$1,160) this month — these cubes aren’t cheap.

They are stacked on two levels — $100 (HK$775) for a cube on the upper deck and $150 for the lower bunk.

The lower cubes are more expensive because you can just barely stand upright in them. Do the math and the apartment owner is collecting roughly $2,500 a month (HK$19,375) from these people.

The 19 occupants share two toilets. A small rubber hose attached to a leaky faucet is what they use to wash themselves. Social workers who monitor the apartments said the electricity is donated, so a few of them have TVs. One person on the upper deck has an aquarium.

One social workers said that because of the recession these homes are being occupied more frequently by those made jobless — people in their 30s and 40s. The social worker said none of the younger people wanted to speak on camera for fear their chances of finding work would be hurt.

Chung, 67, is now waiting for welfare to kick in and is on a long list for public housing. The government says it is doing its best to meet its citizens’ needs, but Chung says he has lost all hope. Economic recovery or not, he feels forgotten.
Sourse Youtube

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Hong Kong “cage home” rents soar above luxury flat

Posted by man_14_70904 in Nov 20, 2011, under Professional Journalism

HONG KONG | Wed Apr 28, 2010 10:41am EDT

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s so called “cage men” may be among the city’s poorest, but rents per square foot for their dingy wire-mesh cubicles are now on a par with luxury flats in the city’s famed Peak district.

With Hong Kong property prices soaring and urban redevelopment shrinking the supply of older, cheaper tenement blocks, thousands of cage men living in 15-square-foot cubicles, usually crammed eight to a room, are being squeezed even more.

Sze Lai-shan of the Society for Community Organization said rents for the city’s cage homes had risen around 20 percent over the past year, with some cages renting for up to HK$1,500 ($193.20).

On a square-foot basis, such rents exceed those of some mansions in Hong Kong’s exclusive Peak district where many local tycoons reside.

“There have been rental price rises all the time,” said Sze. “It’s more expensive than the Peak district, which is about HK$30-40 per square foot.”

While the financial hub of Hong Kong enjoys a reputation as one of Asia’s most affluent cities, its wealth gap is among the worst in Asia, with around 100,000 of the city’s 7 million people living in tiny units of less than 60 square feet, according to Sze.

“The government doesn’t really have a perspective for helping these people,” said Sze, who called on the government to build more public housing and to ban such cage home dwellings.

Hong Kong’s government says that public housing is available with an average waiting time of 1.9 years for general family applicants and 1.2 years for the elderly. There is also short-term assistance available for people who need housing immediately.

“People choose to live in bedspace apartments and cubicles probably because these apartments are mostly conveniently located in the urban areas,” said a government spokesman.

According to Jones Lang LaSalle research, the value of luxury and mass residential property in Hong Kong rose 8.1 percent and 9.7 percent respectively in the first quarter.

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Words from the Editor

Posted by man_14_70904 in Nov 20, 2011, under Words from the Editor

“Caged home – a sign of inequality, the alert of OUR society!”

Flourishing and prosperous as Hong Kong is, there are 274,000 millionaires in Hong Kong, according to the statistics last year. However, behind the prosperity of Hong Kong, there are still nearly 125,000 people living in caged homes, which are not suitable for housing. People who are living in such a poor condition earn a meager income that causing them hard to survive and being unaffordable to live in a better home.

Caged home is the miniature of Hong Kong poverty. There was influx of refugees in Mainland China in 1950s and it provided cheap labors for Hong Kong industries. These labors demanded for low cost bed-space. However, there was no housing and labor protection policy for them and singletons did not allow applying public rental housing. At that time, caged homes appeared. People lived in a small cage about 3ft. x 6fts that they needed to share with more than ten households to use one kitchen and toilet. The poor sanitation, lack of fire facilities and crowded condition cause a grave menace to the tenants.

For now, Hong Kong as an affluent city, why do these people have to live in caged homes?

First, earning low income, people are unaffordable to live in a better house. Most of them are illiteracy that they don’t have chance to study. They have no choices but live in such an unhygienic, poor and packed condition. Some of them work hard and want to improve their living standard. They desire a job that has better compensations and benefits. However, it is difficult for them to do so because their low education level.

Second, it is uneasy for the new immigrants from Mainland China to find a job in Hong Kong. Some of them could not speak Cantonese. Employers do not consider employing them and they become a part of unemployment. With the difficulties in searching jobs, they have no money but have to live in caged homes as a prefab house. Lan, 28, is a new immigrant. She finds that people are discriminated against her. When she had her first job interview, the employer laughed at her about her poor Cantonese. It seems that new immigrants from China are not easy to adapt the life in Hong Kong. Poor Cantonese becomes their obstacle for seeking a job.

Third, some of the elderly are neglected by their sons and daughters. They just rely on the old age allowance to survive. The amount of money is so little that cannot support their living let alone living in a big and comfortable house. It is difficult for them to find jobs and what they can do is staying in that narrow caged home. They are so desperate that the rest of their life has to spend in this bad living condition.

We think although the caged home problem affects only a small group of people, HKSAR government and the public definitely should not neglect it. This is the problem of the whole Hong Kong society. All of us should have the responsibility to tackle with it. Government should take a leading role in taking actions.

First of all, the public housing policy should be improved. According to the Society for Community Organization, there are around 152,000 families or 320,000 people waiting for public housing. The average waiting time of families is three years. The 63,400 single applicants have to wait more than 10 years. It could show how difficult to apply for public housing. It seems impossible for the single applicants to move in to the public housing. Undoubtedly, the government should consider the housing needs of the poor, the new immigrants and the elderly, which are the three main types of people who live in caged home. They should try to build more public housing estates to make sure there is enough supply for the needy. In addition, most of the cage dwellers are single. We suggest that the government should shorten the waiting time of some of the single applicants based on their situation, such as poverty, sickness, and old age. This could increase the opportunity of cage dwellers moving into the public housing.

Furthermore, there should be more cooperations between the government and NGOs to bridge the gap between the policy and the fieldwork. NGOs such as the Society for Community Organization have done a lot of research to investigate the issue of caged home and they have deep understanding of the needs of cage dwellers. A communication platform should be built up between the government and NGOs so that the officials could get all those invaluable information and better allocate the resources. Also, NGOs could interact with each other more through the platform, so that they could help the cage dwellers in higher efficiency.

In addition, education of being dutiful is also very important. In the light of Chinese traditional culture, it is supposed that children need to take the responsibility to provide and care for their parents when their parents are getting old and unable to take care of themselves. However, being flooded with western culture, the core value of “family” in Chinese tradition is not really inscribed on Hong Kong people’s memory. Therefore, the government should have more promotion to educate Hong Kong citizens about the importance of family and providing for their parents, for instance, a series of TV programs and advertisement can be broadcast on the radio and TV. Moreover, holding talks and adding this topic in the literacy course at school are also very vital too because the core value of family need to be taught when people are still in teen age. Every citizen should know that they have to take the responsibility to look after your parents as if their parents looked after them when they were still a baby.

To conclude, there are three main reasons for people living in caged house which are earning low income, difficulties of finding job for the new immigrants in particular, the neglect of sons and daughters, wrong housing strategy of the government and the hot housing market. However, if the society hang together to deal with the problems, the serious situation of living in caged homes will no longer happen.

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Cage homes ‘worse than living on street’

Posted by man_14_70904 in Nov 19, 2011, under Professional Journalism

Martin Wong
May 24, 2011

Sleeping on the street is bad enough, but Hong Kong’s notorious cage homes and cubicles are even worse.

That is the view of an academic who has studied homelessness in Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan and Korea for a decade.

“I was really shocked and surprised when I first went to cage houses and cubicles here. It was astonishing,” Osaka City University researcher Geerhardt Kornatowski said, referring to the Hong Kong flats divided into bed spaces walled off by wire barricades.

Kornatowski, who has visited Hong Kong more than 10 times in the past six years, told of the reaction of an Indian scholar with expertise in urban development when he took her to a cage house.

“She said it was the first time that she had ever witnessed a living environment worse than an Indian slum. I cannot agree more – living on the streets is better than in cage houses,” he said.

“It is unbearable. There is no privacy at all and everyone has to pack together in a tiny place with poor hygiene. The lack of windows and air conditioning means poor ventilation and that is bad for people’s health as well.”

About 100,000 people live in cages and cubicles in Sham Shui Po, Mong Kok, Kwun Tong, To Kwa Wan and Wan Chai, according to the Society for Community Organisation. While the cramped spaces offer the most affordable accommodation for the poor, per square foot they are among the most expensive.

A typical bed space costs up to HK$93.30 a square foot, compared to HK$72 a square foot for a spacious four-bedroom luxury flat in Stanley.

In Japan, the monthly rent of the most affordable housing with much better living conditions takes about 25 per cent of a recipient’s welfare money. In Hong Kong, a cage home can take up to 40 per cent.

Kornatowski described the conditions as “almost subhuman” but added: “The biggest headache is that if this housing is eliminated, where will these poor people live?”

He said Hong Kong should redefine the meaning of homeless to cover not only street sleepers but also cage dwellers – “then more should be done to help these vulnerable people”.

The only way out for the cage dwellers, Kornatowski said, was public housing, which accommodates nearly half of the population in Hong Kong, a much higher percentage than in the other three places he has studied.

“However, it is extremely difficult for people living in cage houses and cubicles, who are mostly single, to move into public housing here,” he said.

Sze Lai-shan, of the Society for Community Organisation, agreed.

“There are about 152,000 families or 320,000 people waiting for public housing. While for families the average waiting time is three years, the 63,400 single applicants have to wait more than 10 years,” she said.

Kornatowski said he wanted to bridge the gap between field work and government policies in a bid to help the homeless.

“In Japan, our school has worked out a platform so that various non-government organisations get together from time to time to share with others what can be done to improve these people’s lives,” he said.

“There is no such platform in Hong Kong, though many NGOS told me they would love to join if there was one.”

Copyright (c) 2011. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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