PHOTOGRAPHY – Poverty & Property: The Claustrophobic Reality of HK Shoeboxes

Benny Lam’s photo series gives us a claustrophobic glimpse inside HK’s sub-divided ‘shoeboxes’…

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The South China Morning Mouthpiece reports today that up to 280,000 Hong Kongers are living in subdivided flats and paying exorbitant rent…

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Often these spaces are more expensive than their luxury equivalents. Monthly rent for such flats can be HK$27 per square foot, higher than the average HK$22.20 at 85 private housing developments (as reported by Centaline Property). As with many things, the poor pay more.

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Lethal fires are all too common, as the Wall St Journal reports in this article about the dangers of such set-ups…

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Average home prices in Hong Kong have jumped 76% since the end of 2008. News outlets have been predicting a slow-down for many years (as recently as last week).

Click for high-res version

The photo project was organised in conjunction with SoCO – the Society for Community Organisation.

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Less than 7% of Hong Kong’s land is designated for residential use, whilst some residents have been waiting years for public housing. Despite the conditions and illegal nature of subdivided dwellings, demand remains high.

They are typically seen in older buildings, which often have more relaxed property management. Such properties remain a lucrative investment for home owners. It emerged in August that the wife of the new Secretary for Development, Paul Chan Mo-po, owned subdivided flats…

HK has amongst the highest population densities in the world. Even HK’s last leader, Donald Tsang, admitted as he left office that ‘trickle down economics’ has failed the city’s poor

Arguably, those condemned to sub-divided living are the ‘lucky’ ones when compared to HK’s poorest, who reside in so-called ‘cage homes’ (CNN story, Daily Mail, BBC)…

HK is a wealthy place. With the highest concentration of millionaires in Asia, it is awash with luxury malls and sports cars. Yet the city lacks a proper social safety net, is home to the widest rich-poor gap in the developed world and has a minimum wage of just HK$30 (US$3.87 or £2.40 – as of May 2013). Around a tenth of families live in poverty, according to Oxfam…

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Statistics from

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Click here for Michael Wolf’s ‘Architecture of Density’ series, which shows what some of the city’s ‘shoebox homes’ look like from the outside…

Click to see the photo series ‘Architecture of Density’

Click here to see the political art of Winnie Davies, which focuses on HK’s widening poverty gap.

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