In Wealthy Hong Kong, The Poor Are Living In Wire Cages

Published May 22, 2016
Updated May 13, 2020

Thousands of poor people in Hong Kong are living in tiny, wire cage homes — and they're actually paying quite dearly for the privilege.

Hong Kong is one of the wealthiest cities in Asia, yet you’ll find hundreds of thousands of people living in what the government calls “inadequate housing” — which for some means tiny wire cages.

An extended housing crisis has put the possibility of purchasing a home out of the reach of many — and has made the cage home a reality for Hong Kong’s poorest. Incredibly, the 16-square-foot cages rent for around $170-$190 USD, which if calculated by cost per square foot makes them more expensive than the most posh apartments in Hong Kong.

Building after building, floor after floor – rooms with up to 30 cages each populate the poorest areas of the city. The United Nations calls the squalid conditions of cage homes “an insult to human dignity,” and as these photos show, it’s easy to see why:

Hong Kong Cage Homes
Cage homes were initially constructed for single men coming over from mainland China in the 1950s. As poverty rose and housing supply fell, the demand for cage homes grew.Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

Playing Game
As the average time on the waiting list for government public housing is five-seven years, some have resigned themselves to living in cages over the long-term. MN Chan/Getty Images

Wire Dwelling
The common area of a cage room is often used to wash clothes in a shared bucket. Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

Cage Home Building
The outside of a building that is filled with stacked cage homes. MN Chan/Getty Images

Life In Hong Kong's Cage Homes
A man watches a television in a commons area corridor. MN Chan/Getty Images

Getting Up
The restroom consists of two toilet stalls and a squat toilet that also catches water from showers. Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

Lower Level
Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

Coat Hanging
Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

Bunk Climbing
Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

Smoking Bed
Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

Feeling Trapped
Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

Sad Gaze
78-year-old Leung Shu prepares to settle in for the evening beside his cage. He shares this apartment floor with four other people. Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

Drinking Tea
Leung and his "roommates" try to use bamboo mats or old linoleum instead of mattresses to prevent bedbugs, but it's a losing battle. Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

Life In Hong Kong's Cage Homes
“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.” Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

Cage Homes In Hong Kong
“It took me a while before wrapping my head around the fact that this is how it is and it will be. So I might as well choose the best out of the worse,” says one man. Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

Respirator Man
Leung sits on his bed as he uses a ventilator to ease his chronic asthma. Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

Shared Hallway
Tam, 70, sits in his shared hallway. Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images

Looking Up
Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

Door Open
Simon Go/AFP/Getty Images

Boy Cubicle
One step up from a cage home is cubicle. Cubicles are apartment buildings divided into numerous, very tiny areas — about 50 square feet each. Here a boy plays a computer game as he sits on his bed in a cubicle in Hong Kong. Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images

Woman In A Cage Home
Lau sits in the small room she shares with two other family members. Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images

Below, watch this Channel News Asia profile of 54-year-old Yeung Suen, whose home is barely bigger than his bed:

For more on living conditions across the globe, check out our articles on pollution in China and life inside Manila, the most crowded city on Earth.

Erin Kelly
An All That's Interesting writer since 2013, Erin Kelly focuses on historic places, natural wonders, environmental issues, and the world of science. Her work has also been featured in Smithsonian and she's designed several book covers in her career as a graphic artist.
Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.