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

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:

  2. Well it’s really expensive to live in Singapore too lol. I live in a terrace landed house and it already costs like what 5 million.

  3. Greed, self centered selfishness, corruption, & lack of empathy, will be the end of all of us! Tax multi billion $ corporations ugh

  4. They should move out of Hong Kong then. They don’t need to stay in Hong Kong though. I doubt how much value they can bring to Hong Kong anyways

  5. You all can b** and moan about it but I don't see any homeless on the street like I do in San Francisco and Orange County and other areas of the United States. Yes it does look disgusting and living in a cramped tiny cage like setting. But we've got a big problem here in the United States with homeless. Although I don't think they would have much tolerance for the drug addicts living in those cramped places. The good about this it appears that the people are well behaved in those cramped quarters. I don't know if we could say the same thing if a bunch of mentally ill and drug addicts were given those same options.

  6. Meanwhile in the United States there are no homeless people and housing and cost of living in California is super affordable.

  7. this is the root cause of protest. gov want to change, but the riches supports protest to aginist gov. by 'true' universal election, the riches can control gov

  8. (KJV)(Timothy 3:1-5) This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be
    lovers of their
    own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection,
    trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of
    pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.

  9. HK ppl :Fk the government , we want more space
    HK government :Okay u can move to China whenever u like
    Problem solved

  10. This was inherited and not a result of 1997 handover. Blame the British who allowed it and the money hungry tycoons; They should build more public housing at affordable prices as community service. That will truly help the HongKongers.

  11. I was having panic attacks looking at those capsules… and when you said “coffin homes” I lost it. Nope nope nope.

  12. 4:37 – It's not because of housing, it's because of policy.

    Kind of like how the zoning laws in many California communities are driving up the cost of housing. This creates an artificial shortage. (except that it's a different group of people whom the zoning laws benefit)

  13. The thing with Hongkong's housing. Is the fact that the real estate market is owned on Governed by the Pro-China Party.
    The fact that they raised the price on housing so high, is to restrict the peoples freedom. And even to come up with the method of keeping them in cages, is just a way to create the mindset, that they are already living in cage physically.
    So if they where to liberate the Chinese law it would be like a breathe of fresh air. However, the con is even though they may have enough space to live in, they would have become mentally caged

  14. No wonder they are demanding democratic sovereignty. The average Hong Konger has no means to effect change to improve their situation.

  15. Excellent report. Fair, direct and where complex concepts, such as, governmental incentives are made simple and clear.


  17. not to boast, but here in Malaysia, you will get a free land home with 3 bedroom if you are too poor and have family. Govt also provide cheaper apartment specific for low income family. we can also buy and sell lands freely and not dependable on Govt. i feel so blessed living in my county even im from village and not an urban people but my house have 7 bedroom and we have our own land. Hong kong Govt should do something to solve this matter. it’s getting scarier than ever. imagine few years ahead, with increasing population and economy, its a nightmare

  18. One thing I liked is govt owning land and forests cover the land.
    Simple solution to all of the problem is population control or Thanos.

  19. Good while the Amazonia is burning down your giving Hong Kong the idea to tear down their trees…your smart aren’t you🙄


  21. Wait… So if the gov. Leases the land to developers.
    How do apartments work? Can those be sold or they are only for rent?

  22. Ok I see ur point about the land but u need to also have enough land to grow food, animals,breathe, and wild animals

  23. Hong Kong peoples should focus on housing issue rather than rally on something unnecessary.. It is really possible to have bigger and affordable house if there is proper plan by government. Pride is not a key matter. Breath smoothly and live comfortable are more realistic. Be smart!

  24. All these have been happening during the British colonial government's era. By the way, I was born in Hong Kong but have left for Canada in 1972 when I was 21. I had never heard or seen a single word of "democracy" from the British colonial government before I left. In addition, English was the only official language in this Chinese city. You Vox people also forgot to mention that Hong Kong has a different tax system – the main government income source is from land development, and Hong Kong citizens pay very little tax. This is a model used by the British colonial government all that time. By the way, the 1st HKSAR government had proposed to build lots of public low-cost housing after taking Hong Kong back from British colonial government, but had faced fierce objections from "anti-government" groups – with the fear that the value of their holdings would depreciate…

  25. In another video of yours you claimed UK gave HK the economy boost. These cages are what’s left by the U.K. colony. Afterall China only took over 10 years ago. These cage home have been there during the U.K. time when the British treats HK people as slaves

  26. Land tycoons borrow much loans from bank to speculate. they don't want new more housing to develop too quick because it would affect said tycoons asset equity value on the real estate they bought on loan from bank.

  27. I just watched this video after the ones about the recent protest in HK about Chinese influence. I was on HK's side of the protest, however, after this video, I do wonder if China would really mean bad for all that people living in that situation. Maybe Mainland China would provide them better life conditions by default

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *