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Housing Costs Push Hong Kong Residents to the Rooftop



Rising housing prices in Hong Kong are hurting low-income residents. Many people who live in the city are being forced into unsafe and illegal living conditions.

Some Hong Kong residents have built low-cost dwellings on the roofs --top levels -- of high buildings. They may pay rent -- make periodic payments -- for these poor living spaces to owners they do not trust. The dwellings have poor protection against extreme heat and other dangerous weather. And the city government cannot meet the growing need for affordable public rental housing.

Su Xingyun makes her home in a rooftop living space. She says she does not have the money to pay for better places.

"The rent is so high out there, how can we leave this place? It costs at least several hundred dollars. We cannot afford it.”

Her two daughters have to walk up and down 10 levels of steps on their way to school and back home. They often do their homework in very high heat or under a leaking roof. They share a single bed, a small living room and another area outside. The open-air space serves as both a kitchen and a bathroom.

The roof offers little privacy because it shares the space with similar places. The family of Su Xingyun has lived here for four years. But now the government says they must leave.

Su Xingyun moved here from mainland China to join her husband. He has lived on the rooftop for 20 years. She said she has requested safer public housing every year.

"During typhoons I'm really afraid. I'm worried the roof will collapse because I can feel the walls shaking. It's not safe for a family.”

On a rooftop in the working-class Sham Shui Po neighborhood, some residents own their homes. Others pay rent to the landlord.

Quang Xuan is a Vietnamese refugee who has lived there for 10 years. He pays about $130 a month.

“I will stay as long as they don’t demolish this place. If they do, I will have to leave and I may have to sleep in the streets.”

A growing number of new, costly apartments are being built in Hong Kong. Some of them sell for more than $50 million. And as housing prices rise, the city is having difficulty finding room for its poorest people.

Community worker Angela Lui said many people cannot pay for even Hong Kong's cheapest places to live.

"When you want to rent a subdivided unit in urban city, what you need is the deposit, the commission, the first month rent. Altogether, it can be more than 10,000 HKD [$1,290]. It is a big number, a big amount of money that families under poverty [line] can't afford.”

No exact record of the number of poor rooftop homes exists. Officials said they removed 400,000 unlawful buildings - including rooftop dwellings - between 2001 and 2011. Most were removed for safety reasons. They are being torn down faster than the government can place people in homes they can afford.

At the same time, the waiting list for public housing is getting longer. At the end of March of this year, there were almost 250,000 requests for public rental housing.

The housing department said the average waiting period is three years.

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