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Hong Kong housing

Hong Kong’s poorest endure oven-like home conditions in the summer months, survey finds

Society for Community Organisation finds that temperatures in cramped spaces can be several degrees hotter than outdoors

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 July, 2017, 8:01pm
UPDATED : Monday, 03 July, 2017, 8:17am

As Hong Kong enters the hottest time of the year, the city’s poorest are living in “oven-like” homes that are several degrees hotter than outside temperatures, a survey has found.

Non-profit group Society for Community Organisation recorded the readings inside various living arrangements the government deems inadequate – subdivided flats, partitioned homes, caged homes and rooftop structures – and that officials estimate house 200,000 people.

Coffin cubicles, caged homes and subdivisions … life inside Hong Kong’s grim low income housing

Researchers who took readings inside the cramped quarters home to 29 families in 11 locations from June 23 to 28 found temperatures were on average 34 degrees Celsius – one to four degrees higher than outdoors.

The highest was 37 degrees inside a rooftop shack in Sham Shui Po, one of Hong Kong’s most densely populated and poorest districts.

It feels like I’m being baked in an oven
Sham Shui Po resident

“It feels like I’m being baked in an oven,” a resident who lives in a subdivided flat in Sham Shui Po said.

From windowless partitioned flats to cramped cage homes stacked on top of one another, the plight of the residents living in such accommodations is a far cry from the city’s image as one of the world’s most affluent places.

Many have endured the increasingly hot summers in such conditions for five to 10 years as they join ever longer queues to get into public housing.

Social worker Sze Lai-shan said the sweltering heat indoors had led to the phenomenon of “McDonald’s refugees” or what she calls “the seasonally homeless”, referring to those who seek refuge in McDonald’s or public spaces such as a library for the cooler, air-conditioned environment in the summer.

“The living conditions for these people in inadequate housing are already bad, but it’s even worse in the summer,” Sze said.

In a related survey of 139 families, 70 per cent said they were unable to sleep because of the hotter temperatures. Many said they had to deal with more rats, bed bugs and cockroaches.

No way out: How Hong Kong’s subdivided flats are leaving some residents in fire traps

Hong Kong is on track to experience one of its hottest years on record, after January became the warmest first month of the year since local records began in 1885.

He Shuijin, who lives with her husband and two sons in a 130 sq ft rooftop flat in Sham Shui Po, said they paid around HK$1,200 for water and electricity, compared with HK$300 in the winter.

“Sometimes it’s still hot even if I turn on the air conditioner,” He said. “We try not to turn it on too much because it’s expensive and sometimes we take three showers a day just to cool down.”

The group urged the government to introduce a special subsidy for poor families during the summer to help with their extra expenses and consider waiving public swimming pool entry fees and keeping schools open during the summer months.