When Canadians think about unaffordable housing, Vancouver is often the first city that comes to mind.
Tales of the city’s home prices are legend throughout the Great White North, and even beyond its borders.
Coverage of Vancouver housing on Globalnews.ca:
While it remains tougher in Vancouver to service a mortgage than anywhere else in Canada, it isn’t quite the world’s most difficult city in which to pay for shelter.
That’s Hong Kong, according to a Demographia survey released earlier this year.
And last year, Canadian-educated photographer Benny Lam brought the lives of low-income people in that city to life in a series of stunning images that show just what home can look like in the world’s least affordable city.
Hong Kong is a city where the median household income is $300,000, but where the median home price runs to $5,422,000.
At a median multiple of 18.1, that tops every other city in the world, including Sydney (second) and Vancouver (third).
And it’s a place where Lam, who graduated from the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD), captured homes and lives for Trapped, a book he produced in partnership with the Society for Community Organization (SoCO), a non-profit that works to relieve poverty and advocates for civil rights.
For his work, he was short-listed for the Prix Pictet, a global award in photography and sustainability that was handed out to another artist last month.
As part of the project, Lam spent two years documenting poor living conditions in the city’s old districts.
He gave particular attention to “cage homes,” which are essentially micro-micro units that are located in subdivided apartments, according to CNN.
In Trapped, Lam described them as “small, wooden sealed boxes, each of 15 square feet, [which] are called coffin cubicles by the media.”
He said the cage homes have been built into 400-square-foot apartments that can accommodate almost 20 “double-decker sealed bedspaces.”
There’s hardly enough room for residents to lay down flat in them, let alone stand up, Trapped reads.
“I’m still alive and yet, am already surrounded by four coffin planks!” one cage home tenant said in the book.
Residents of these units work as waiters, as security guards at shopping malls, or as cleaners and delivery men, Lam noted in a Facebook post last year.
But cage homes weren’t Lam’s sole focus in the book.
He also looked at living spaces in which toilets shared rooms with cooking equipment.
These spaces are so cramped that the lid of a toilet can end up functioning like a countertop, Lam wrote.
Another picture showed meat being cut on a stool, right next to a toilet.
Lam’s aim is to show the people who’ve been left behind, in the shadows of “glittering Hong Kong,” and its “prosperity and cosmopolitan success.”
“Hong Kong’s glitter conceals the 200,000 people who struggle and cannot share the city’s social improvements and development,” Trapped reads.
“The city’s bright lights never shine into their homes.”