Hong Kong housing

Hong Kong heatwave left city’s poorest reduced to tears and fighting off depression as temperatures soared in oven-like homes

New survey from Society for Community Organisation reveals tenants of sub-divided flats suffered in 42 degree heat as city sweltered in month of record highs

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 July, 2018, 3:42pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 July, 2018, 11:29pm

The oppressive heatwave that left Hong Kong sweltering for much of May reduced some of the city’s poorest residents to tears and left others fighting off bouts of depression, a new survey has revealed.

With temperatures outside topping 32 degrees Celsius for a record 15 consecutive days, inside Hong Kong’s subdivided units the heat was often 10 degrees hotter.

On Saturday, the Society for Community Organisation released the findings of a survey of 234 tenants, almost half of whom said they struggled emotionally in the heat, while a further 21 per cent claimed to have suffered from some form of depression.

Lin Xiaohong broke down in tears when describing the oven-like living conditions in an unauthorised home on a rooftop in Tai Kok Tsui.

“My 6½-year-old daughter only wears underwear at home as it is too hot. She can’t sleep and often has fever,” Lin said.

“She has to shower three times at night. We have dinner at the park after making food at home.”

Lin’s husband, a street cleaner and the family’s sole breadwinner, earns HK$8,200 a month, but 55 per cent of the income went on rent for the 250 sq ft unit.

The landlord charges the family HK$500 for electricity every month, and that has risen to as much as HK$800 in the summer.

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To save money, the Lins avoid switching on the air conditioning, which means her room is regularly about 37 degrees.

“We don’t want to go home,” Lin said. “We try to leave home as early as possible. My daughter does her homework at the library or other NGO centres after school.”

The family’s case is just the tip of the iceberg, according to the woman behind the community organisation, Sze Lai-shan.

The group measured the temperature at 27 subdivided units around the city in June and July, and found that places in Yuen Long hit up to 42 degrees. The temperature inside 81 per cent of these units was higher than the temperature outside, in some cases by as much as 5 degrees.

“[The families] would rather stay outside and come home late. The hot weather also brought more bugs to their places,” Sze said.

The blazing heat prompted a very hot weather warning from the Observatory, which ran for 348 hours. It was the longest period for the warning to remain in place since the system was launched in 2000, and was the hottest May since records began.

Sze urged the government to resume offering a living subsidy to “have-nots”, and build more transitional housing.

The wait for public housing in Hong Kong is at its longest in almost two decades, with families waiting for more than five years to be allocated a flat, according to official statistics released in May.

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Families spend an average of five years and one month hoping to be given a public housing flat, according to the Housing Authority. Elderly applicants wait for an average of two years and nine months.

Out of 272,300 applicants, 56 per cent were families, and the rest were single, non-elderly applicants.

The last time there was such a long wait for public flats was in 2000, when low-income families had to wait five years and three months.