Inside Hong Kong’s cage homes
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Inside Hong Kong’s cage homes


It’s more expensive to live in Hong Kong
than anywhere in the world. Hong Kong has been ranked the least affordable housing
market in the world eight years in a row and by a long shot. Housing prices are now almost 20 times more than annual income. That means that
a household making $50,000 USD would on average be looking for
a house that cost $980,000 USD. And it’s getting really bad. Hundreds of thousands of residents now squeeze into incredibly
small apartments, most of them no bigger than a parking space. So these are cage
homes, which basically fit one person and their belongings. And they basically
stack these in a room in order to fit as many people as they can in the room.
And yet the price per square foot for these smaller houses just keeps shooting
up. I visited these homes to try to piece together an explanation for this trend
and to meet the people who are being squeezed by the world’s least affordable
real estate market. There are now tens of thousands of
people in this city who live in spaces that are between 75 and 140 square feet.
For some perspective a typical parking space in the US is 120 square feet. One of the most common strategies for small space living is this subdivided house model. This big space that’s been divided up into a bunch of tiny little
living spaces. These people basically have room for a bed and a table and a
few belongings. What makes this model work is that they have a bigger
communal space where they’re able to have their cooking and their washing and
the bathroom open to everyone, so that they can save space and save money in
their actual living quarters. So this is the kitchen for this space which is
shared by four families. The tempting
explanation here for why the prices are so high is land scarcity. You know, seven and a half million people crammed into this series of islands, it’s gonna drive up
the prices. The same story in a lot of places that have run out of land that
are in high demand — in San Francisco or New York City. Okay this might be the
story in New York City and San Francisco, but is Hong Kong actually running out of
land? Let’s see what the drone says about this. Flying over Hong Kong you start to
see that, while yes, there’s a very dense urban landscape, there’s also a whole lot
of green space. Government land-use data says that 75 percent of the land in Hong
Kong is not developed. Now some of that is mountainous and rocky and not easy to
build on, but certainly not all of it. So I posed this question about density
to two experts, one is a Hong Kong citizen and the other is a 30-plus year
resident. Both are advocates for better urban design. Are high prices primarily
the result of land scarcity? No. No. There’s a land-use issue, because also
land is being inefficiently used or conserved. The problem isn’t the shortage
of land the problem is bad land management. Land use, land management, what
these experts are referring to is that of all the land in Hong Kong only 3.7% is zoned for urban housing. But it’s not because of
mountains, it’s because of policy and this gets to the heart of the
explanation of why more and more people are living in homes the size of parking
spaces. The first thing to note if you want to understand the real explanation,
is that the government owns all of the land in Hong Kong. Well, all except for
this one church that the British built here when they ruled it back in the 1800s
and it kind of just escaped the whole government-owns-all-the-land thing. So the government owns all the land and it leases it out to developers, usually for
50 years in an auction process where the highest bidder gets the contract. With
such scarce and valuable land zoned for housing, real estate companies more and
more of them coming from mainland China with lots of money, will duke it out in
these auctions. And will end up at an astronomically high price. Like this plot of land that was just leased out for 2.2 billion dollars, which
set an all-time record for the most expensive land of ever leased by the Hong
Kong government to a developer. So the way the government zones and leases
land is the first part of this. The other part of this explanation has a lot to do
with taxes. If you’re the type of person who navigates away from this video when
you hear the word tax policy, stay with me here. This place loves low
taxes. It’s a great place to do business, because the corporate tax is low
no value-added tax, no sales tax, free market economics, low taxes. That’s
embedded into the fabric of this place. Look at all those low taxes doing their
work, building up those skyscrapers, slapping on those bank logos all over
town. So if the government isn’t getting revenue from taxes, it really needs it from
another source and in the case of Hong Kong that source is land sales. A lot of the government revenues here driven by land revenues and it’s about 30% of government public financing income. The government of Hong Kong can
lease out this land to developers at astronomical prices, make a ton of
revenue from that and not have to raise taxes on the people or the corporations
that reside here and they still proudly retain their ranking
as the freest economy on earth. What this means is that the Hong Kong government
doesn’t have a huge incentive to free up more land and lower prices, but while
this current arrangement of bidding and auctions is really good for revenue for
the government and good for the market generally, it’s not super good for the
people of Hong Kong. Of all the small spaces, this is easily the most cramped. These are
coffin homes. Could I ask you just a quick question about your living space? The government is slowly working on this
problem. Year after year new policies come in
that are meant to fix this, but they’re slow to change, mainly because they have
an incentive to keep the status quo as it is. Out here at this industrial
complex in Hong Kong, I met with a guy named Eric Wong, a local inventor and
businessman who has seen a business opportunity in the midst of this space
crisis. Eric grew up in Hong Kong and has been
thinking about small-space living for a long time. Oh it has WiFi. These capsules come in one or two-person sizes and are meant to provide a more
efficient and hygienic version of the cage and coffin homes, all at a
relatively low price. Down here there’s a little box where you can put all your
valuables and so there’s mirror lights, there’s reading lights. But these capsules,
innovative as they are, really just put a band-aid on this housing problem.
They don’t serve as a real solution. A real solution would need to come from
something that’s much less profitable and fun to look at: Government policy and
zoning reform that will free up more land and put the interests of the people
above the interests of the market, but until the government can make that
happen people in Hong Kong will continue to squeeze into smaller and smaller
spaces.

About Ralph Robinson

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100 thoughts on “Inside Hong Kong’s cage homes

  1. Cage homes are just one fascinating product of Hong Kong's unique composition and history. For more check out the full Vox Borders Hong Kong playlist here: http://bit.ly/2OIuyUb

  2. It's that awesome capitalism working wonders for….. oh yeah the rich, powerful, and corporations. What about the average people of HK? Smh.

  3. 3 of the top 4, Hong Kong, Singapore, and New Zealand, are ex British colonies founded on basic British principles of law and and order, democracy, and the free market.

    Out of the top 8, Ireland at 6 has been heavily influenced by British modes of governance, then the United Kingdom itself is at number 8.

    Canada, another nation heavily influenced by British traditions and practices is at 9 too.

  4. Why dont you just stop having children and just caring about Humanity instead of actually respecting all the living beings there

  5. 1.the government needs selling lands in a expensive price to balance the low tax economy. 2. The HOT MONEY and the developers add more to the price for profit. 3.Neither of them wanna change this situation

  6. Shènmê….. I can’t believe that my country/neighbor is doing this, it’s been a long time since I came back there last time was when I was 6 years old……

  7. Singapore is already like this. Building bird houses for the citizens. While the important people live in huge bungalows. ITS JUST F-ED UP SYSTEM.

  8. id rather commit a crime and send to jail, that live in these cage homes. atlest in jail i can eat free food

  9. Strange, because without the people you have no market, the companies benefit from this whilst the person who cant afford to live in a house is working for that very same company that put them in that situation. Another example of humans just coping instead of acting!

  10. i have some hongkongnese relatives and i visit them almost every year. some of them live in a 3 bedrooms apartment, 2 bedrooms apartment so i think that’s normal. but i just found out they are superr rich a few years ago when my hongkongnese aunt told me that most of the residents live in a cage house. this is so heartbreaking..

  11. 不是喜欢市场经济么?优胜劣汰,赢者通吃,港废提升自己竞争力噻。有能力海景洋房,没能力棺材鸟笼很正常。

  12. How about instead of creating more housing, we reduce the population? You can either increase supply or reduce demand. Given the fact that this planet's resources are finite, reducing demand through population control is the only logical solution. We will hit 11 billion people by 2100, requiring the equivalent of 3 planets just to sustain us. That's just not going to happen.

  13. China: has a lot of space
    China: Les be India
    China: o maybe let’s make smaller houses for no entire reason we got many space but we don’t care

  14. Ok…. so let's raise the taxes in HK then….. what if doing that doesn't change the housing prices though???? What if they keep it the same? Oops, gotta pay more taxes now with the same housing prices… ouch. Not to mention the businesses are getting taxed more, so now they'll want to make up for it… by raising rent pricing or product pricing.

  15. This is literally the environment that usually serves as the origin for a comic superhero/villain. It’s ridiculous. Praying for Hong Kong ♥️

  16. The coffin home idea doesn’t sound nice but $267/month is pretty cheap for living in a major city. If that were even an option in NYC, I’m sure some people would happily take it.

  17. hong kong's success comes with a price, while you can find a millionaire in every 4 metres, there are many people cramped in these small spaces in desperation

  18. well they can always move to china got more low price house by the price a parking space price cage in Hong kong can I think can buy a 2 room house at china already lo is only my guess la cause well china still got like ton of space of house

  19. Blame for 4 rich family of HK! Mainland of China is better than HK. I stayed on day in my chinese friends house, 170m2! And he is from a normal family in the city nearby Beijing

  20. What incentive government has to NOT lease more land? Probably only mainland influence. Im sure their government could raise even more revenue by leasing more land.

  21. Unrelated and I might be ignorant but seeing Sydney on the list of least affordable housing shocked me. I live about 5 mins from the city CBD and you wouldn't be able to find a single apartment building here. Why aren't they making apartments complexes if its residents can't afford suburban style housing?

  22. Try living in a one person tent for 6 months, then tell me that a coffin with wifi isn't a great deal at less than $400 a month.

  23. I went to hongkong last summer, I was in a pretty dang nice rbnb. But i also found some of these buildings that are old and I thought it was abandoned, i never thought there we're people in there, living. and yes, the food is actually expensive, I didn't like the food because i was more of the fast food type >-< we went to a mountain it was really cold and nice, they have underground water tunnel, which is nice. But i never knew there was these cage thingys… Government are useless, they never try to do anything. Shameless.

  24. Idk about living in a frig, might as well live in a tent outside for free and just have a safety deposit box, bank account and extra small storage unit.

  25. It’s amazing to think that even while living in literal cages, these people have the strength to fight for their freedom against China

  26. HK is a good example of a place where land is scarce + no population control. Yet people keep giving birth without consideration (waiting financials saturation to force them to not give birth because its expensive.). Similar thing could happen anywhere else in the world, HK is one of the first due to its land area being small in comparison to its population growth.

  27. Those capsule beds at 8:20 could be really good in backpackers hostels or super cheap hotels.
    Not sure I'd want to live in one long-term though.

  28. Over 1.4 billion over there, gotta put em somewhere I guess. Imagine packing up all your stuff and moving into your closet.

  29. Chinese government provides many opportunities about working in mainland, for addressing the issue of Hong Kong, such as housing & job. But lots of Hong Kong citizens prefer to stay in Hong Kong.

  30. Typical bleeding heart socialist free up more land to fill up with more people like land is an indefinite resource. Address the real problem genius overpopulation

  31. This is why I never ever want to live in Japan/China. Both places just too backed up and/or have a too low standard of living

  32. if there is no space, why have some many children, to many people are killing this planet, don,t people know this??

  33. I lived in Hong Kong for a while. Nowhere in the world is it more apparent that money is king. And for this reason this problem will never ever be fixed. Those capsules are an excellent idea. I hope they catch on as they have far more of a chance of working than the government fixing the problem.

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