Cage dwellers ask Legco for housing
Martin Cheung and Martin Wong
More public housing should be built for people in cage homes, who must pay soaring rents to live in intolerable conditions, social activists told legislators yesterday.
The Society for Community Organisation (SOCO), which met members of the Legislative Council's complaints division, said 100,000 people lived in such inadequate accommodation.
'Living conditions are intolerable. Added to this, the rents of these homes keep rising. Many of these residents are forced to pay rents [per square foot] equal to luxury housing but live in places with safety risks,' SOCO social worker Sze Lai-shan said.
Four people died in a fire in Ma Tau Wai last week in a building where most of the flats had been divided into cubicles, blocking the rear exits.
Among 30 cubicle and cage residents who joined SOCO representatives at the meeting was 59-year-old jobless man Chan Chi-kin, who lives in a 70 sq ft cubicle in Sham Shui Po with his nine-year-old son.
'My original flat in the same area cost only HK$500 a month in 2005 and I did not have to pay for the water and electricity. Now I have to pay HK$1,500 a month for the same flat and I have to pay the water and electricity bills on my own,' he said.
The family's sole source of income is a HK$5,800 monthly government welfare allowance.
Chan said such housing was dangerous, as the rear exits were often locked and the stairway was always blocked. 'It would be almost impossible to escape if there was a fire.'
Chau Kam-chuen, 58, who also lives in a cubicle in Sham Shui Po, said it was hard in the summer.
'With no air-conditioning, it gets very hot during the day as you have the sun glaring from outside.'
He said he would sit at home dripping with sweat even with two fans blowing at full speed. His 50 sq ft home has just enough space for a small bunk bed, a tiny desk and a small television set.
Ho Fai-ping, who lives with his wife in an 80 sq ft cubicle home in Sham Shui Po, said hygiene was also a problem. 'Our place is terribly hot, with cockroaches and mice all over the place. Also, with limited space it is easy to get into an argument with your neighbour over small issues.'
Housing minister Eva Cheng said in January that nearly 75,000 government flats for low-income families would be built in the coming five years, but residents and SOCO have demanded more.
'There were about 152,000 applicants on the waiting list for public rental flats at the end of March this year, compared to 129,000 at the same time last year,' Sze said. 'And while the government pledged that applicants could move into public housing in three years, many have to wait for six or seven years.'
Lawmaker Frederick Fung Kin-kee said the problem had existed for a long time and promised to help the residents fight for better homes.