“You dread it”: Sally’s experience of summer in high-rise public housing

Sally has lived in high-rise public housing in Melbourne’s inner city for 16 years. Her apartment is located on one of the top floors, and during summer the sun blankets her building from morning to night.

The view from Sally’s unit in Carlton’s high-rise public housing.

On sweltering summer days, it’s not safe for Sally to stay indoors, so she stays out of her apartment all day to escape the heat. She sees it as a practical way to protect herself. “I go to Myer, I used to go to the pool.” She also makes sure to keep the blinds closed to block out the sun.

When asked how her building has changed over the last two decades, she laughed. “Things have not been upgraded.” The insulation is poor, and none of the units in Sally’s building come fitted with cooling measures, such as air-conditioners or fans. As a result, Sally and the other residents are left to find ways to keep themselves cool during summer.

Sally is thankful for her son who purchased two fans for her, one for her bedroom and one for her living room. These have made a huge difference for her quality of life during summer.

Sally has two fans which she uses on hot days during summer, one in her living room (left) and one in her bedroom (right).

Reflecting on last summer, Sally says that there were a number of ‘boiling days’ which were difficult to deal with. She worries about residents facing financial difficulties, including those on pensions, who may be unable to afford to keep themselves cool during the hot summer months. 

“It’s difficult for people to fork out money,” and investing in cooling measures such as fans or portable air conditioners is not an option for many residents. Sally says that “we’re desperate,” referring to other residents in her building.

The apartments in Sally’s high-rise building are fitted with heaters, but no cooling measures.

For Sally, the heat isn’t just uncomfortable; it’s a serious worry and health risk. “You dread it.”

She’s particularly concerned about older residents, those with medical issues and young children, who are at higher risk of heat related illness. “If you have asthma – where do they go?” “We accept it because there’s nothing you can do.” She says that the only option for residents during summer is to “just stay in and suffer here, or we can get a fan.” 

The upcoming summer is set to be a scorcher. When asked how she feels about it, she says “I know what to expect.”

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