20 April 2019
Several families are typically packed into a rooftop shack with metal sheets for a roof. Photo: BBC
Several families are typically packed into a rooftop shack with metal sheets for a roof. Photo: BBC

Penthouses for the poor in Hong Kong

In the working-class neighbourhood of Sham Shui Po, the buildings are packed together tightly.

A person on the street wouldn’t know that on the roofs above, thousands of people live in ramshackle and sometimes dangerous conditions, BBC News said in a report.

Chan Piu, 58, sleeps on a pile of newspapers on the floor because there is no space in his home for a bed, it said.

He lives in a windowless room that is no larger than a parking spaceSeven other families share the same kitchen, toilet and small living area.

But outside, there is a stunning view of the sprawling city below.

It is a penthouse view, but one that is available only to the poor.

Chan and his neighbours are among Hong Kong’s thousands of rooftop slum dwellers, pushed to the top of old apartment buildings because they cannot afford the spaces below, the report said.

These shacks are usually made of cheap metal sheeting and wood and partitioned to hold multiple people or families.

During the summer the shacks get stiflingly hot, and in the winter bitterly cold.

The BBC spoke to Natalie Yau, who works for a non-profit organisation that helps the city’s poor find a proper roof over their heads.

“Hong Kong is really an affluent city,” she said.

“But Hong Kong does not have a very good housing policy. People live in poor housing just because of the failure of the housing policy.

“Now the government will provide public housing to low-income families, but the amount is becoming smaller, and that creates a long queue of public housing applicants on the waiting list.”

Simon Smith, head of research for Asia-Pacific at real estate firm Savills, says there has been a notable lack of new supply of residential units over recent years. 

“The previous administration failed to provide new land to the market, something the current administration is trying to address,” Smith said. “But it’s not a tap that you can turn on instantly.”

Chan told the BBC: “I’ve been waiting two years to get public housing. But all the government does is talk and say there is not enough land.”

Families have to wait an average of four years to get their first choice of a public flat.

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A view from the Peak barely tops that from a rooftop slum. Photo: AFP

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