Can "luxury" cage homes fix Hong Kong's housing crisis?

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Story highlights

  • Unable to afford sky-high rents, many in Hong Kong live in subdivided units or cage homes
  • Chinese entrepreneur Sandy Wong is pioneering "luxury" versions of cage homes
  • The landlord is renting out "space capsules" in six properties across Hong Kong starting at $361 per month

(CNN)Hong Kong is one of the most expensive places to live in the world, with the median property price 19 times the median annual household income.

For some, the only option is to live in one of the city's notorious cage homes, which consist of a bunk bed surrounded by a metal cage, often located in a sub-divided flat -- a tiny apartment split into even smaller spaces.
    Sandy Wong is a Chinese entrepreneur who has recently produced an alternative option -- "luxury" cage homes.
    Inspired by Japanese capsule hotels, he claims the pods offer a luxury experience in a tiny space.

    Can a cage home be luxurious?

    Wong has decked out six properties around Hong Kong with 108 "luxury" cage homes -- that's about 18 capsules per flat.
    The smallest of these properties is just 400 square feet (37 square meters).
    The pods themselves range in size, with the largest being 6 ft (2 meters) long and 4 feet (1.2 meters) wide.
    As well as a bed, each capsule contains modern amenities such as a TV, air-conditioning, a mirror and purple LED lighting, which lends them a futuristic feel.
    The "luxury" cage home has a futuristic feel.
    Wong, who is from Guangzhou in southern China, says he designed and produced the pods in China at a cost of $1,289 per capsule.
    "These (capsule homes) provide personal space. That's the selling point," Wong tells CNN.
    "There's a lot of demand for this sort of thing. I noticed a gap in the market."

    Who opts for pod life?

    Wong began renting out capsule homes six months ago, and says most of his tenants are aged between 20 and 40 years old, and single.
    The pods boast mod cons often not available in normal cage homes.
    Among his tenants, Wong counts "a taxi driver, a KFC staffer, a construction worker", and one half of a married couple who is seeking refuge after a domestic dispute.
    But luxury -- even in the cage home market -- doesn't come cheap.
    The pods cost between $361 and $580 per month to rent, with rates determined by where a pod is located within the flat (capsules inside the more private bedrooms are costlier than those in the living room, for example), and how centrally located in Hong Kong the apartment is.

    Tight squeeze

    At Wong's three-bedroom property in the trendy Sai Ying Pun district, there are 12 pods.
    Four take up the biggest bedroom, while the two smaller bedrooms both have two capsules squeezed inside. The living room has another four pods, with a smattering of communal space reserved for a table and sofa.
    "Everyone gets to use (the communal space in) the living room," Wong explains.
    The pods, each sleeping one, are rented out to individual tenants
    The apartment itself is strictly no frills, with strip lighting, white walls and tiled floors throughout.
    Wong chose the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood on Hong Kong Island for its proximity to the University of Hong Kong: students priced out of the once-cheap neighborhood are looking for affordable accommodation near their campus.
    Tenants in the 12 capsule-flat share a bathroom and kitchen. There is also a communal fridge and washing machine.
    "(Sharing) is an issue that can't be solved -- but if you're living in these comparatively nicer spaces, then you can accept sharing facilities."

    Long-term plan?

    The "luxury" cage homes aren't without controversy.
    Hong Kong's local media have criticized how expensive the space capsules are given their size, while others have raised concerns that fire safety could be at stake with so many tenants in such a small space.
    Rent for a normal cage home is about $200 per month.
    Wong tells CNN that "negative reactions" are normal whenever "something new comes out".
    A basic kitchen shared by tenants
    The landlord claims that the materials used in producing the space capsules "meet safety requirements in the United States, the UK and Europe." Each capsule is equipped with a small fire extinguisher.
    "The tenants are supportive," he adds. "Some started out staying for one or two months, and they ended up here for longer.
    "To them, this living arrangement (makes them) like a little family."
    But not every resident sees the "luxury" cage home as a long-term solution.
    Li Kwong-ho is renting a capsule while his own home is undergoing construction, and can't wait to leave.
    "It's lonely," he tells CNN.
    But Wong isn't worried about business, and is planning to buy more pods.
    "My capsules have all been rented out."