In wealthy Hong Kong, poorest live in metal cages

Feb 08 2013, 18:43 IST
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In wealthy Hong Kong, poorest live in metal cages. (Reuters) In wealthy Hong Kong, poorest live in metal cages. (Reuters)
SummaryFor some of the poorest, like Leung Cho-yin, home is a metal cage.

exacerbated the rise.

In his inaugural policy speech in January, the chief executive said the inability of the middle class to buy homes threatens social stability and promised to prioritize tackling the housing shortage.

“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,'' he said, as he unveiled plans to boost supply of public housing in the medium term from its current level of 15,000 apartments a year.

His comments mark a distinct shift from predecessor Donald Tsang, who ignored the problem. Legislators and activists, however, slammed Leung for a lack of measures to boost the supply in the short term. Some 210,000 people are on the waiting list for public housing, about double from 2006. About a third of Hong Kong's 7.1 million population lives in public rental flats. When apartments bought with government subsidies are included, the figure rises to nearly half.

Anger over housing prices is a common theme in increasingly frequent anti-government protests. Legislator Frederick Fung warns there will be more if the problem can't be solved. He compared the effect on the poor to a lab experiment.

“When we were in secondary school, we had some sort of experiment where we put many rats in a small box. They would bite each other,'' said Fung. ``When living spaces are so congested, they would make people feel uneasy, desperate,'' and angry at the government, he said.

Leung, the cage dweller, had little faith that the government could do anything to change the situation of people like him.

“It's not whether I believe him or not, but they always talk this way. What hope is there?'' said Leung, who has been living in cage homes since he stopped working at a market stall after losing part of a finger 20 years ago. With just a Grade 7 education, he was only able to find intermittent casual work. He hasn't applied for public housing because he doesn't want to leave his roommates to live alone and expects to spend the rest of his life living in a cage.

His only income is HK$4,000 ($515) in government assistance each month. After paying his rent, he's left with $2,700 ($350), or about HK$90 ($11.60) a day.

"It's impossible for me to save,'' said Leung, who never married and

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