C for Cage Homes

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Cage homes in Hong Kong. Photo: Nora Tam (South China Morning Post)

In an island where space is so scarce that it is almost consider a matter of luxury, housing is by no means an easy task to handle. Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, is home to more than seven million people, of which at least 80,000 of them are living in inadequate conditions according to the data provided by the municipality. People can live in different tough accommodations, such as cubicle apartments, small sub-divided and partitioned units, roof-top houses or, even worst, they can also live in what is known as “cage homes”. These micro spaces are smaller than 2 square meters in total, extremely hot, without furniture, bathrooms or windows. And they can worth more than 150 U.S. dollars a month.

Hong Kong is famous by being an over-crowed, high density city, with double the number of skyscrapers of New York. But when it comes to public housing offerings, the perspectives are worst than ever. In 2011 there were more than 150,000 applicants and the government promised to build only 15,000 units. With prohibitive rental prices and a bustling job market, people in the base of the pyramid looking for a better life have no option but to live in cage homes. Important to mention that, according to the current rules imposed by the government, immigrants, for example, have to wait for more than seven years to have a place to stay. Non-elderly single people have to wait more than ten years.

This negative case shows how bad things can go at extreme levels. There is almost none grassroots movement or other initiatives run by the community to change the situation exactly because the people living in the cages or in other inadequate housing are the poorest, elderly, unskilled labors, ex-offenders, drug-abusers or people suffering mental illness. The government has its part on the game, allowing these things to happen (until now it is not consider a crime to host such “accommodations”). Also, the lack of democracy and freedom in the country must be considered. Finally, the competitive environment is other issue worth mentioning in order to understand the big picture. But one exception to the rule is leading the role of participatory housing in Hong Kong for more than forty years.

Aware of these terrible conditions, one NGO called Society for Community Organization (SoCO) was created in 1972 by some members of the local neighborhood. Despite the fact that they are almost running alone, they are a good example of counter-power, giving the tools to the dwellers to fight to improve their conditions. According to an article featured in the LSE Cities, SoCO created “civic education programs and social actions, nurtured grassroots people with a sense of civic responsibility so that they can flex their political muscle”.

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