Some of the poor in Hong Kong have had to deal with skyrocketing rent costs by sleeping in cage-like dwellings. Conditions for many of Hong Kong's poor have worsened considerably over the years as the cost of real estate has gone up. Housing costs have risen rapidly because of very low interest rates. Government officials can't raise interest rates because it is tied to the US dollar. In 2012, home prices rose by 23%. Since the global financial crisis hit in 2008, home prices have doubled. Rents have increased to match housing prices.
One man living in a cage dwelling is Leung Cho-yin, a 67 year old former butcher. He pays $1300 Hong Kong dollars per month (or the equivalent of $167 US dollars) to live in a cage, one of about a dozen stacked up in an apartment in West Kowloon neighborhood. The cages are stacked up against one another like rabbit hutches. He keeps bedbugs away by using thin pads, bamboo mats, and even linoleum instead of a mattress.
"I've been bitten so much I'm used to it," said Leung, rolling up the sleeve of his oversized blue fleece jacket to reveal a red mark on his hand. "There's nothing you can do about it. I've got to live here. I've got to survive," he said as he let out a phlegmy cough.
Leung, the cage dweller, had little faith that the government could do anything to change the situation of people like him. There is public housing, but there are long waiting lists.
In his inaugural policy speech in January, the chief executive and president of the Executive Council, Leung Chun-yin said the inability of the middle class to buy homes posed a threat to social stability and promised to make it a priority to tackle 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.
"It's not whether I believe him (the politician) 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. 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 has no children to lean on for support.