Want to live in a cage? Choose Land Value Taxation (LVT)

Tony Gosling tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Tue Apr 9 23:19:08 BST 2013

Hong Kong and Kowloon have a hybrid form of LVT 
called 'Government Rent' levied on all 
hence the tendency to 'cram 'em in'.

Where home is a metal cage: How tens of thousands 
of Hong Kong's poorest are forced to live in 6ft by 2ft rabbit hutches
Leung Cho-yin, 67, pays £105 a month for a cage in dilapidated apartment
210,000 people are on waiting list for public housing, double from 2006
Leung and his elderly roommates wash their clothes in a bucket
(click the link for lots more pix)
By Nick Enoch - PUBLISHED: 22:05, 7 February 2013 
| UPDATED: 16:02, 8 February 2013
For many of the richest people in Hong Kong, one 
of Asia's wealthiest cities, home is a mansion 
with an expansive view from the heights of Victoria Peak.
For some of the poorest, like Leung Cho-yin, home is a metal cage.
The 67-year-old former butcher pays 1,300 Hong 
Kong dollars (£105) a month for one of about a 
dozen wire mesh cages resembling rabbit hutches 
crammed into a dilapidated apartment in a gritty, 
working-class West Kowloon neighborhood.
Home to tens of thousands, such cages - stacked 
on top of each other - measure 6ft by 2.5ft.


Cheng Man Wai, 62, lies in the cage, measuring 
16sq ft, which he calls home in Hong Kong

To keep bedbugs away, Leung and his roommates put 
thin pads, bamboo mats, even old linoleum on 
their cages' wooden planks instead of mattresses.
'I've been bitten so much I'm used to it,' said 
Leung, rolling up the sleeve of his oversized 
blue fleece jacket to reveal a red mark on his hand.
'There's nothing you can do about it. I've got to 
live here. I've got to survive,' he said as he let out a phlegmy cough.
Some 100,000 people in the former British colony 
live in what's known as inadequate housing, 
according to the Society for Community Organization, a social welfare group.
The category also includes apartments subdivided 
into tiny cubicles or filled with coffin-sized 
wood and metal sleeping compartments as well as rooftop shacks.
They're a grim counterpoint to the southern 
Chinese city's renowned material affluence.
Forced by skyrocketing housing prices to live in 
cramped, dirty and unsafe conditions, their 
plight also highlights one of the biggest 
headaches facing Hong Kong's unpopular 
Beijing-backed leader: growing public rage over the city's housing crisis.
Leung Chun-ying took office as Hong Kong's chief 
executive in July pledging to provide more 
affordable housing in a bid to cool the anger.
Home prices rose 23 per cent in the first 10 
months of 2012 and have doubled since bottoming 
out in 2008 during the global financial crisis, 
the International Monetary Fund said in a report 
last month. Rents have followed a similar trajectory.
The soaring costs are putting decent homes out of 
reach of a large portion of the population while 
stoking resentment of the government, which 
controls all land for development, and a coterie 
of wealthy property developers.
Housing costs have been fuelled by easy credit 
thanks to ultralow interest rates that 
policymakers can't raise because the currency is 
pegged to the dollar. Money flooding in from 
mainland Chinese and foreign investors looking 
for higher returns has exacerbated the rise.
In his inaugural policy speech in January, the 
chief executive said the inability of the middle 
class to buy homes posed a threat to social 
stability and promised to make it a priority to tackle the housing shortage.
'Many families have to move into smaller or older 
flats, or even factory buildings,' he said.
'Cramped living space in cage homes, cubicle 
apartments and sub-divided flats has become the 
reluctant choice for tens of thousands of Hong 
Kong people,' he added, as he unveiled plans to 
boost supply of public housing in the medium term 
from its current level of 15,000 apartments a year.
His comments mark a distinct shift from 
predecessor Donald Tsang, who ignored the problem.
Legislators and activists, however, slammed Leung 
for a lack of measures to boost the supply in the 
short term. Some 210,000 people are on the 
waiting list for public housing, about double from 2006.
About a third of Hong Kong's 7.1 million 
population lives in public rental flats. When 
apartments bought with government subsidies are 
included, the figure rises to nearly half.
Anger over housing prices is a common theme in 
increasingly frequent anti-government protests.
Legislator Frederick Fung warns there will be 
more if the problem can't be solved. He compared 
the effect on the poor to a lab experiment.
'When we were in secondary school, we had some 
sort of experiment where we put many rats in a 
small box. They would bite each other,' said Fung.
'When living spaces are so congested, they would 
make people feel uneasy, desperate,' and angry at the government, he said.
Leung, the cage dweller, had little faith that 
the government could do anything to change the situation of people like him.
'There's too little space here. We can barely breathe' - Lee Tat-fong, 63
'It's not whether I believe him or not, but they 
always talk this way. What hope is there?' said 
Leung, who has been living in cage homes since he 
stopped working at a market stall after losing part of a finger 20 years ago.
With just a Grade 7 education, he was only able 
to find intermittent casual work.
He hasn't applied for public housing because he 
doesn't want to leave his roommates to live alone 
and expects to spend the rest of his life living in a cage.
His only income is HK$4,000 (£330) in government 
assistance each month. After paying his rent, 
he's left with $2,700 (£220), or about HK$90 (£7.40) a day.
'It's impossible for me to save,' said Leung, who 
never married and has no children to lean on for support.
Leung and his roommates, all of them single, 
elderly men, wash their clothes in a bucket. The 
bathroom facilities consist of two toilet stalls, 
one of them adjoining a squat toilet that doubles as a shower stall.
There is no kitchen, just a small room with a 
sink. The hallway walls have turned brown with 
dirt accumulated over the years.
While cage homes, which sprang up in the 1950s to 
cater mostly to single men coming in from 
mainland China, are becoming rarer, other types 
of substandard housing such as cubicle apartments 
are growing as more families are pushed into poverty.
Nearly 1.19 million people were living in poverty 
in the first half of last year, up from 1.15 
million in 2011, according to the Hong Kong Council Of Social Services
There's no official poverty line but it's 
generally defined as half of the city's median 
income of HK$12,000 (£985) a month.
Many poor residents have applied for public 
housing but face years of waiting. Nearly 
three-quarters of 500 low-income families 
questioned by Oxfam Hong Kong in a recent survey 
had been on the list for more than four years without being offered a flat.
Lee Tat-fong is one of those waiting. The 
63-year-old is hoping she and her two 
grandchildren can get out of the cubicle 
apartment they share in their Wan Chai 
neighborhood, but she has no idea how long it will take.
Lee, who suffers from diabetes and back problems, 
takes care of Amy, nine, and Steven, 13, because 
their father has disappeared and their mother - 
her daughter - can't get a permit to come to Hong 
Kong from mainland China. An uncle occasionally lends a hand.
The three live in a 50sq ft room, one of seven 
created by subdividing an existing apartment.
A bunk bed takes up half the space, a cabinet 
most of the rest, leaving barely enough room to 
stand up in. The room is jammed with their 
possessions: plastic bags filled with clothes, an 
electric fan, Amy's stuffed animals, cooking utensils.
'There's too little space here. We can barely 
breathe,' said Lee, who shares the bottom bunk with her grandson.
They share the communal kitchen and two toilets 
with the other residents. Welfare pays their 
HK$3,500 (£285) monthly rent and the three get 
another HK$6,000 (£490) for living expenses but 
the money is never enough, especially with two growing children to feed.
Lee said the two often wanted to have McDonald's 
because they were still hungry after dinner, 
which on a recent night was meagre portions of rice, vegetables and meat.
The struggle to raise her two grandchildren in 
such conditions was wearing her out.
'It's exhausting,' she said. 'Sometimes I get so 
pent up with anger, and I cry but no one sees because I hide away.'
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