The Forgotten: Residents of Hong Kong's Cage Homes

Sunday, January 15, 2012 Andrea Lo 0 Comments

Photo by Brian Cassey

Controversial photography seems to be putting Hong Kong in the international spotlight. After the on-going Dolce and Gabbana fiasco, photographers Jason Hawkes and Brian Cassey have separately put Hong Kong in headlines in foreign press through their capturing of living conditions in the city.

Hawkes, famed for his aerial photography taken from helicopters, showcased his latest project in which neighbourhood patterns from around the world are shown from above. The typical high-rise Hong Kong apartment block, along with a range of housing in other countries under his lens, can be seen on his website.

On the other hand, Cassey has been causing an altogether much wider debate and even controversy through his photography. Titled The Cage Dogs of Hong Kong, the Australia-based photographer visited the notoriously grim cage housing units in Hong Kong and captured the scenes under his lens.

For the benefit of those who are unfamiliar with the term cage housing, it refers to wire cages  which are 6ft by 2ft in size, and packed 20 to a room  which are then unscrupulously rented out to low-income residents, who had somehow slipped the government's benefits system and been forgotten by the masses. Conditions are at best nauseating and at worst intolerable. Cages are stacked three levels high, and their residents must share washing amenities. No cooking facilities are available and as such, the cage homes' impoverished and often elderly residents are often forced to sustain themselves through takeaways.

Photo by Brian Cassey
The most shocking aspect of Cassey's collection of photography is something that is often pointed out by the media: the fact that Hong Kong is one of the top business and financial centres of the world, a city with an abundance of wealth, yet the gap between the wealthy and underprivileged is astounding. In fact, in 2009, the United Nations ranked Hong Kong at the top of the league with the widest gap between rich and poor residents, surpassing such countries notorious for their economic inequality as Brazil and South Africa.

In this respect, Cassey's photography are merely showing the tip of the iceberg. An estimated 1.26 million people currently live under the poverty line in Hong Kong, many of whom seek refuge in such substandard housing as cage homes; often the only other option is to live on the streets. It is not at all uncommon to hear stories of a family of four squeezing into 'a room of six feet by 10 feet'.

For one reason or another, the residents of these units either fail to qualify to live in public housing estates, or have simply been placed on the waiting lists for years on end. This creates a vicious cycle of residents being forced to subsidise their already meagre income by paying rent, and as a result, they struggle to escape poverty.

It is also unsurprising that those who are living in these squalid conditions are having to pay an extortionate amount for what they are getting. The former British colony's real estate prices are known for being some of the most expensive in Asia and across the world.

While the number of those living in poverty have increased by 50 percent since Britain relinquished its power over what later became dubbed a Special Administrative Region, housing prices have escalated by 75 percent in merely 14 years. It beggars belief that, in the same city where the jaw-dropping, world record-setting sale of the US$57 million penthouse took place, with a thriving luxury goods sector that now sees a larger amount of Louis Vuitton stores than Paris, it is a despairing reality that there are many in Hong Kong who are barely able to survive on what little income they are able to gather.

Behind the prosperous and glamorous fa├žade of Hong Kong, it seems that those who helped to build it had been forgotten.