Accessibility links

Hong Kong's Soaring Housing Prices Hit City's Poorest

  • Zlatica Hoke

Rising housing prices in Hong Kong are squeezing out low-income residents, often forcing them into unsafe and illegal living arrangements.

Many have built rickety dwellings on the rooftops of highrise buildings or rent them from shady landlords. Residents of these slums have poor protection against extreme heat and inclement weather and the city government is unable to meet the growing need for affordable public rental housing.

"The rent is so high out there, how can we leave this place? It costs at least several hundred dollars. We cannot afford it," said Su Xingyun, a rooftop apartment dweller.

Her two daughters have to walk up and down 10 flights of stairs on their way to school and back home. They often do their homework in unbearable heat or under a leaky roof. They share a single bed, a small living room, and another shack outside, that serves as both a kitchen and a bathroom.

Unsafe conditions

There is little privacy on this roof where there are more shacks like this. Their family has lived here for four years, but now the government has served it with a removal notice.

Su Xingyun moved here from mainland China to join her husband, who has lived on the rooftop for 20 years. She said she has applied for safer public housing every year.

"During typhoons I'm really afraid. I'm worried the roof will collapse because I can feel the walls shaking. It's not safe for a family," she said.

On a rooftop in the working-class Sham Shui Po neighborhood, some residents own their homes, others pay rent to a landlord.

"I will stay as long as they don’t demolish this place. If they do, I will have to leave and I may have to sleep in the streets," said Quang Xuan, a Vietnamese refugee who has lived here for 10 years - for about $130 a month.

Luxury digs

There is a growing number of new luxury apartments in Hong Kong, some of them selling for more than $50 million.

As housing prices soar, the city is having difficulty finding room for its poorest.

Community worker Angela Lui said many people cannot afford even Hong Kong's cheapest accommodation.

"When you want to rent a subdivided unit in urban city, what you need is the deposit, the commission, the first month rent. Altogether, it can be more than 10,000 HKD [$1,290]. It is a big number, a big amount of money that families under poverty [line] can't afford," she said.

There’s no exact record of the number of makeshift homes.

Authorities said they removed 400,000 unauthorized buildings - including rooftop huts - between 2001 and 2011, mostly for safety reasons. The pace of removals is outpacing the ability to place tenants in affordable homes.

Meanwhile, the waiting list for public housing is getting longer. At the end of March this year there were almost 250,000 applications for public rental housing. The housing department said the average waiting period for general applications is three years.