Paying off the mortgage on a home bought last year would eat up an ordinary Hong Kong family's entire income for 10 years without allowing for any other expenditure. In a city where people are suffering less disease and less pollution, 2010 was nevertheless the toughest year in almost a decade for buying a place in which to live. This is the picture that emerged from an annual quality-of-life survey by Chinese University which indicated that people's overall quality of life had improved slightly despite a significant deterioration in their economic situation. 'For all the boasting by our government about how prosperous the economy is, most people in the city cannot benefit from it at all,' the director of the university's Centre for Quality of Life, Ng Sai-leung, said. The overall index, which reflects public perceptions of their quality of life was 104.18, up 2.66 points from 101.52 in 2009, but still lower than before the financial crisis of 2008. The latest score was more or less the same as 104.2 during Sars in 2003, when property prices plunged. The index is made up of 21 indicators covering social, economic and environmental factors. Three indicators under the environmental heading went up, suggesting that water quality, noise pollution and the recycling rate of solid waste had improved. But the air pollution index worsened slightly. While factors such as these helped lift the score for social and environmental satisfaction, the economic index sank to the lowest level since the study began in 2002. Eight of the 21 indicators worsened last year, with one of the most noticeable being the housing affordability ratio - the time needed to pay off a mortgage based on the median household income - which dived to minus 0.87 compared with 1.18 in 2008 and a peak of 4.95 in 2003. In 2010, the mortgage clearance span reached 10.22 years, meaning people earning a median income - HK$19,100 in March this year - needed to invest more than 10 years' salary to repay the loan. The ratio last year was 8.2, and just 4.68 in 2002. Terence Chong Tai-leung, associate professor in the university's economic department, blamed inflation and surging property prices. He said government efforts introduced in November to cool the property market were not reflected as the survey had almost been completed by then. Chong expected a slightly better index for this year, but added that 'Hong Kong people don't expect the government [to] do too much. The property price will not drop significantly next year.' Property prices reached a historic high in the first quarter, soaring 9 per cent between December and March, taking prices in March three per cent higher than the 1997 peak. Cheung Kong chairman Li Ka-shing was circumspect when asked if people should buy property: 'To buy property for self-use with a conservative mortgage - it should not be a worry. However, if the leverage is too high, one has to be careful.'