The other day after work, I went to the flower market to pick up some Autumn. I’d gotten to the point where I needed a reminder that it was, after all, November! After running through all the shops within the 3-4 blocks that make up the flower market, I ended up leaving with orange tulips. Not exactly the Autumn bouquet I was hoping for, but none the less, they were beautiful and they were orange.
While waiting to cross the street near the Prince Edward MTR entrance (trying to let go my frustrations of not finding a single potted mum…), I was looking up at the buildings around me. I’m no Peeping-Tom, but whether driving through the streets of Highland Park in Dallas, or walking down sidewalks in a major city, if a room is exposed by an open window, I’m going to look! I like seeing how people live.
Anyway. While standing on the corner, I could see what appeared to be a cage-like structure inside a window. The more I looked, the more I realized I was looking at a caged apartment.
A few years ago I attended an exhibit at a local art gallery, which showcased some of the below photographs. They even had actual cages on site. The exhibit was a free of charge, non-charitable, non-fundraising event. The purpose was simply to bring awareness of this shameful reality that too many people face in Hong Kong. Fast forward 3 years, there I stood, on a corner, looking up at the real deal. With a hand full of tulips.
After getting home from the flower market, I jumped online to see what the government is currently doing to help eliminate this horrible reality for so many of its people. What learned was staggering.
Cage homes are categorized as “bed space apartments” by the Hong Kong Government. According to the Bed Space Apartment Ordinance, the term “bed space apartment” refers to a house that contains 12 or more people who rent bed spaces individually.
Cage home apartments are usually located inside old buildings. In the apartment, the whole living space is divided into multiple sections. Each section has 2-3 layers of beds, which are subdivided with metal cages. Each cage, or bunk, rents from (USD) $150 to $200 per month, depending on the level of the bunk. An average apartment that houses 20 cages can earn a landlord roughly $3,500 per month.
Residents have to keep all of their personal belongings inside the confined space. However, each bed space is very narrow and with the addition of personal items, the cage is pretty much limited for sleeping only. Cage homes are dim, cramped, and hot. Residents share the toilets and kitchen, which are notoriously smelly, dirty, and very simple.
According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights proposed by the United Nations, cage homes violate the right to housing.
Hong Kong Government disagrees. In fact, cage living is endorsed by the government as a reasonable living option.
As media outlets increase coverage on this subject, many of Hong Kong’s citizens and social organizations have started urging the government to construct more public housing estates to replace cage homes for low-income people. However, the government insists that cage homes should not be eradicated, as there is such a large demand for small apartments in the city.
CNN recently reported on the living environment of Hong Kong’s cage homes. It described cage homes as the “size of a shoe box,” and reported that it was difficult for the rest of the world to believe that such a large number of people are living in such poor accommodations in a so-called wealthy city.
These people are not homeless. These buildings are not condemned. They’re tenants paying rent for living conditions the government advocates.
Despite the apparent age of the individuals photographed, this problem will not simply die away anytime soon. The growing majority of cage dwellers are ages 30-40, but many fear being photographed could jeopardize their current employment.
Hong Kong has a population of 7.2 million people.
According to the Hong Kong Council of Social Services, 3.2 million Hong Kong people earn less than USD $27,869 annually, and 1.6 million Hong Kong people earn less than USD $14,052 annually.
Hong Kong Housing Authority figures show the number of applicants for public housing increased 14% in 2014.
Over the years, no matter where I go in this city, I’ve been exposed to some level of poverty everyday. I have shamefully grown numb and no longer allow it to effect my day. Even leaving my gym at IFC, one of the most affluent neighborhoods in Hong Kong, even there, I am surrounded by it. There is no escape. Despite the rare occasion of me giving money, or running across a street to help an elderly regain control of their cart of recyclable goods, the reality is most days I do nothing. Even knowing this is wrong, and as horrible as this sounds, I have the luxury to look the other way. In contrast, the Hong Kong Government does not have this right. In fact, it’s one of the reasons we have government. Attention is needed.