Life of misery in shadow of the corporate giants

Families living illegally on rooftops of industrial buildings say they cannot afford rents elsewhere

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 July, 2013, 4:42am

People living in industrial buildings have their own story of how they landed in the cramped and undesirable conditions and have been unable to get out.

They know that it is illegal to set up a home in industrial buildings but they say they have no choice because rents are soaring everywhere.

"The property owner has broken the law, but at least he is giving us shelter. The government has not helped us at all," said Zhang Xixi, who lives in one of the 32 homes on the roof of a factory in Kwun Tong.

The space outside the homes is uneven, covered with pipes and drains and there are antennae and cables above their heads.

These units used to be stores for the offices downstairs, but the area turned into a small community as more and more people moved in. There is still a lot of junk from the stores lying around.

Zhang moved from Guangdong to Hong Kong four years ago with her 70-year-old Hongkonger husband and 24-year-old son and they found this place through a friend.

The family has little money and low skills. She earns about HK$3,000 a month as a domestic helper and her son earns HK$8,000 as a warehouse worker. Her husband is retired.

The rent for their 100 sq ft shed is HK$3,000 a month.

The zinc walls turn the sheds into ovens in the summer, she said.

Their neighbour, Yin Qiongying, 38, who has lived there for 12 years, said: "All these years we have always wanted to move out, but there is just one thing lacking - money."

She lives there with her husband, two children, her elderly mother and her niece, whose father is a drug addict.

Her husband's HK$15,000 monthly income as a maintenance worker supports the family of six. The rent costs HK$2,300 a month.

They divided the 300 sq ft home into three rooms, a living room and a bathroom using thin wooden boards. She worries whenever she cannot see her six-year-old son because the roof is a dangerous place. Once, the boy and his cousin of the same age almost fell off because there was no fencing.

Yin's one consolation is that despite the difficult environment, her 12-year-old daughter has excelled in her studies and was accepted into a prestigious girls' secondary school.

"All my hope is on her now. I just hope that she will not be like me, living a difficult life."

Another concerned parent, Fung Kit-hin, 57, moved his family from Shenzhen to Hong Kong two years ago so that her daughter, now eight, can attend primary school.

The place floods during heavy rain and his roof was almost blown away when a typhoon struck, he said.

He hoped more decision-makers in the government would visit their homes in order to learn about their difficulties and provide some help.

Community Care Fund task force member Michael Tien Puk-sun, who visited the rooftop houses yesterday, said: "It's ironic here in Hong Kong.

"Here we are at these rooftop houses, and towering above are commercial buildings housing large companies. What has happened to us?"

He encouraged other task force members to pay a visit too, instead of only discussing the matter in meetings inside air-conditioned rooms.