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Living in a cage in Hong Kong

By Eunice Yoon, CNN
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Living in a cage in Hong Kong
  • People have been living in cage homes in Hong Kong for years
  • 19 occupants share two toilets
  • Chung spends $150 a month for lower bunk; faces long public housing list
  • By contrast, one duplex sold for $57 million

Hong Kong, China (CNN) -- If you have ever complained that your apartment is the size of a shoebox, consider the living space of Hong Kong resident Chung For Lau.

Chung lives in a 625 square foot (58.06 square meter) flat here with 18 strangers.

The place is sectioned into tiny cubicles made of wooden planks and wire mesh. Everything he has acquired over the years -- clothes, dishes, figurines, a tired TV set -- is squeezed into this tiny cube, a modernized version of what is known here as a cage home.

With all the buzz over Hong Kong's exorbitant luxury property (like the recent record-breaking sale of a $57 million duplex), it may be hard to believe that people have been living in cage homes in this city for years.

But with Hong Kong home to some of the most densley-populated urban districts in the world, real estate has always come at a premium, no matter how small.

Chung's cage is a newer yet less-desirable model, we are told. The wire mesh one, which resembles an over-sized rabbit hutch, is apparently more comfortable.

Occupants have less privacy, but the temperatures don't get as high as in the wooden-mesh variety. A thermometer in Chung's home reached 34 degrees Celsius (93 degrees Fahrenheit). Sometimes it gets so hot, Chung said, that he wants to die.

Chung used to be a security guard. In the good old days he earned about $500 (HK$3,875) per month. But as the economic crisis set in, his full time job went to part time work until he was laid off this past summer.

As he stared into his bank passbook, Chung lamented that he wouldn't be able to make the $150 rent (HK$1,160) this month -- these cubes aren't cheap.

They are stacked on two levels -- $100 (HK$775) for a cube on the upper deck and $150 for the lower bunk.

The lower cubes are more expensive because you can just barely stand upright in them. Do the math and the apartment owner is collecting roughly $2,500 a month (HK$19,375) from these people.

The 19 occupants share two toilets. A small rubber hose attached to a leaky faucet is what they use to wash themselves. Social workers who monitor the apartments said the electricity is donated, so a few of them have TVs. One person on the upper deck has an aquarium.

One social workers said that because of the recession these homes are being occupied more frequently by those made jobless -- people in their 30s and 40s. The social worker said none of the younger people wanted to speak on camera for fear their chances of finding work would be hurt.

Chung, 67, is now waiting for welfare to kick in and is on a long list for public housing. The government says it is doing its best to meet its citizens' needs, but Chung says he has lost all hope. Economic recovery or not, he feels forgotten.