Hong Kong family of four may be forced on to street if they have to leave rooftop slum by year’s end
Landlord tells tenants to get out in wake of government crackdown on industrial buildings after Ngau Tau Kok fire
A dilapidated and stuffy 200-square-foot rooftop slum is not the best environment for a family of four, but for Tsui, his wife and two daughters that is a luxury they might lose by the end of the year if the government does not treat them leniently in its drive to get rid of illegal homes in industrial buildings.
Tsui is one of around 30 tenants who will be affected by a deadline to move out of the flimsy shacks built with metal sheets on the rooftop of an industrial building in Kwun Tong.
Despite suffering from numerous health issues including high blood pressure and the effects of falling nine storeys about 30 years ago, including persistent swollen ankles, Tsui, 59, works as a security guard and is the sole breadwinner for his family.
His wife is unable to work as she is chronically ill and his two daughters are still studying in a secondary school.
Taking home only about HK$9,000 a month, the family struggles to make ends meet. About a third goes on rent, while the rest is spent on food, transport and miscellaneous fees for the daughters.
Tsui is still waiting to get a public housing flat after applying in 2002. His case has been complicated by his changing status, with his daughters and wife coming to Hong Kong from the mainland in 2009 and 2012 respectively.
But things began to look down for Tsui’s family after the landlord obtained a court order to clear the rooftop by the end of the year.
He noted that the rent for other housing options was way too much for him.
“If the government can’t find a place [that I can afford], I’ll have to sleep under the bridge. As long as no one chases me away, I’m fine with that,” he said.
Angela Lui Yi-shan, community organiser with the Society for Community Organisation, which fights for grass-root rights, pointed out that many landlords were forced to stop renting out to tenants because of the government’s crackdown on illegal structures in industrial buildings.
The government toughened its stance on illegal residential units in industrial buildings after a fire at a mini-storage facility in Ngau Tau Kok killed two firemen in June.
While living conditions in rooftop slums are not ideal, Lui said it was the best the tenants there could afford.
Lui pointed out that a study completed by her group earlier this month of 20 small to medium-sized property agencies found that only 60 out of 200 property advertisements offered rents of HK$8,000 or less. All of the properties on offer were 150 square feet or less.
While unable to provide an exact figure, Lui said that the organisation roughly estimates around 10,000 people are living in industrial buildings, including rooftop slums.
She called on the government to delay enforcement action against landlords breaching land lease conditions if there is not too much danger, provide viable temporary housing for affected tenants and speed up the construction of public housing to reduce waiting times.
According to the latest figures released by the Housing Authority, families need to wait an average of four years to get a public housing flat, but some may have to wait much longer to move into subsidised housing.