Hong Kong "cage home" rents soar above luxury flat

HONG KONG Wed Apr 28, 2010 10:41am EDT

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HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong's so called "cage men" may be among the city's poorest, but rents per square foot for their dingy wire-mesh cubicles are now on a par with luxury flats in the city's famed Peak district.

With Hong Kong property prices soaring and urban redevelopment shrinking the supply of older, cheaper tenement blocks, thousands of cage men living in 15-square-foot cubicles, usually crammed eight to a room, are being squeezed even more.

Sze Lai-shan of the Society for Community Organization said rents for the city's cage homes had risen around 20 percent over the past year, with some cages renting for up to HK$1,500 ($193.20).

On a square-foot basis, such rents exceed those of some mansions in Hong Kong's exclusive Peak district where many local tycoons reside.

"There have been rental price rises all the time," said Sze. "It's more expensive than the Peak district, which is about HK$30-40 per square foot."

While the financial hub of Hong Kong enjoys a reputation as one of Asia's most affluent cities, its wealth gap is among the worst in Asia, with around 100,000 of the city's 7 million people living in tiny units of less than 60 square feet, according to Sze.

"The government doesn't really have a perspective for helping these people," said Sze, who called on the government to build more public housing and to ban such cage home dwellings.

Hong Kong's government says that public housing is available with an average waiting time of 1.9 years for general family applicants and 1.2 years for the elderly. There is also short-term assistance available for people who need housing immediately.

"People choose to live in bedspace apartments and cubicles probably because these apartments are mostly conveniently located in the urban areas," said a government spokesman.

According to Jones Lang LaSalle research, the value of luxury and mass residential property in Hong Kong rose 8.1 percent and 9.7 percent respectively in the first quarter.

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