Life as a Factory Worker in Shanghai’s Insecure Housing
GuoZhoawan, an 82 year old resident of Shanghai, China, lives with his adult grandson in a small, one-room rental in public housing. He moved to Shanghai from the bordering Jiangsu Province 56 years ago, after the Cultural Revolution, to become an apprentice in a factory for animal husbandry. Early on, he lived in factory dormitories, moving frequently to follow the factories as they moved between districts within Shanghai.
Since retiring at age 60, GuaoZhoawan has been receiving a US $463 monthly pension. He pays over $100 each year for rent, and notes that access to water and electricity is “not a problem.” However, when asked about the quality of his facilities and access to public services like water and electricity, GuaoZhoawan says that his living conditions are poor, and that the government has uprooted these neighborhoods in the past.
The intense weather conditions are also taxing on GuoZhoawan’s living conditions. Heavy rainfall causes frequent floods and leaking in his neighborhood. Because there is “no constructive foundation” for the houses, he feels the flooding is dangerous. Rain and flooding also exacerbate pollution and sanitation problems, as there is no toilet in his house, only a spittoon. Every three days he goes to his son’s house to shower. He evokes a neighborhood saying: “the habits become natural.”
Typically GuoZhoawan prefers to buy something small for breakfast, and eat lunch and dinner at his son’s house. There is no kitchen in his house, and it is too difficult for him to access the communal kitchens set up on neighbors’ balconies.
GuoZhoawan says he feels safe in his home, but notes that in the 1970s, he used to be able to “open the door to sleep.” A friend interjects to say that GuoZhoawan’s memory may be failing, because “the safest time in Shanghai was when we were young.” He notes that GuoZhoawan’s grandson’s cell phone has been stolen twice, and there are only two security guards in charge of hundreds of households. Because the guards only make the minimum wage of $338 each month and are in charge of so many households, many feel they are not incentivized or are unable to provide adequate neighborhood security. Some guards have been known to simply wave their flashlights to deter criminal activity.
For many people, GuoZhoawan’s friend says, there is no choice but to live in Shanghai’s public housing. The alternative is not affordable; privately owned or rented homes nearby can cost up to $15 per square meter—a cost GuoZhoawan’s friend thinks is absurd. “We can’t afford to buy a new house,” the neighbor says, “even if we don’t eat or drink the whole life!”