A survey carried out by two Hong Kong NGOs has revealed that many subdivided flat tenants suffered both financially and mentally during the city’s fifth wave of Covid-19. More than 12 per cent of respondents experienced rent increases, while more than half saw their income fall.

Subdivided flat tenants Covid-19 impact
Caritas’ Youth and Community Service division and Health In Action meets the press on May 23. Photo: Supplied.

Caritas’ Youth and Community Service division and Health In Action announced the survey results at a press conference on Monday afternoon. They said they had successfully interviewed 130 residents of subdivided flats in the Central and Western District and the Southern District between March 21 and April 22.

Among the respondents, 52.3 per cent said they suffered from a fall in income as Hong Kong’s economy was battered by the fifth-wave from early January to mid-May. Almost a quarter were unemployed.

The survey also found that while rents in Hong Kong largely decreased from last September to March, 12.2 per cent of respondents faced an average rental raise of nearly 8 per cent, with the most extreme case seeing a rent hike of 18.6 per cent. In January, a law came into effect to limit the rent hikes on subdivided flats to 10 per cent for the first two years of a lease.

Under the fifth wave, nearly 70 per cent of households interviewed by the two NGOs were unable to add to their savings. Forty-three per cent of respondents said their savings would not cover one month of daily expenses.

medic medical doctor A&E emergency ER caritas covid covid-19 queue
Caritas Medical Centre during the fifth-wave Covid-19 outbreak. The hospital is located in Sham Shui Po, home to many low income residents in Hong Kong. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The organisations said in a press release issued on Monday that the lack of savings “made [subdivided flat tenants] unable to move out easily… or make improvements to their lives.”

Mental health

On top of financial pressures, the survey showed that the tenants of subdivided flats were also subject to severe mental stress during the fifth wave.

Around 80 per cent of respondents suffered from insomnia, while more than 40 per cent of them showed a high probability of depression or anxiety.

One respondent, Ms. Cheung, said during Monday’s press conference that she was unable to sleep when her husband – the only income source of the family – had to quarantine for two weeks while she and their son were infected with Covid-19.

Subdivided flat tenants Covid-19 impact
Ms. Chan shares her experience as a resident in a subdivided flat during the fifth wave on May 23. Photo: Supplied.

“[Our] whole family was without income and there was no space for us to quarantine,” she said, adding that the suspension of school classes had brought further mental stress to their household. “My son had huge emotional upheavals and so did I… All three of us were trapped in one subdivided flat. [We had] a lot of disputes.”

Government support

Respondents of the survey also said that the government had been “the least helpful” or “relatively less helpful” compared to NGOs when it came to supporting them through the fifth wave.

Ms. Chu, another subdivided flat resident, said that the government’s distribution of Covid-19 supplies was “not quite ideal.”

She said her family had called the official hotlines since they were first infected. “We waited anxiously but they only gave [the supplies] when [my husband] was about to resume work.”

Covid-19 supply kit
The contents of a Covid-19 supply kit. File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Chu said she and her husband had both taken the over-the-counter Chinese medicine Lianhua Qingwen promoted by the central government as an effective treatment against Covid-19 that was included in the anti-epidemic kits, but felt dizzy for two days straight afterwards.

“We didn’t know how to properly take it,” Chu said.

Another respondent, Ms. Chan, said she hoped that in the future “the government will no longer be so slow in reacting and only start to hand out this or that when [the outbreak] is ending.”

‘We can afford no delay’

In light of the survey results, the two NGOs urged the authorities to act promptly to ease the financial and mental problems faced by residents with undesirable living conditions.

Subdivided flat tenants Covid-19 impact
Caritas’ Youth and Community Service division and Health In Action meets the press on May 23. Photo: Supplied.

They suggested the government lower the threshold for households to obtain cash allowances, give out more subsidies under the unemployment relief scheme, and set up a timeframe to review the rental regulations regarding subdivided units while taking into account the views of the tenants.

To address the mental burden among residents in subdivided flats, they said the authorities should invest more resources in district health centres to cater for the psychological health of the underprivileged.

The NGOs urged the government to set up a professional team with social work and medical talents to provide regular mental health support services to those in need, too.

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Peter Lee

Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.