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People's Daily Online>>Special Coverage >> China Studies >> Cooperation >> Economy and Society

Disadvantaged Groups and Their Right of Residence: on Cooperative Housing-Construction in Disaster Areas

(People's Daily Online)

13:53, April 13, 2012

Cooperative housing-construction is characterized by an independent management system within the community and mutual cooperation among its members, so that the community can be less dependent on market and money. Empowering those labors who are willing to and able to work together to build their houses can effectively mobilize rural surplus labor for sustainable rural development. A method of cooperative housing-construction originated by Xie Yingjun, an architect in Taiwan, than can effectively solve the housing problem for the victims has been cited by Yona Friedman, a famous Hungarian "Utopian Architect", in his book Pro Domo as a pioneering practice of cooperative housing-construction in the world. Up to now, Xie and his team have completed the reconstruction of the Shao tribe after "9.21" earthquake at the Sun Moon Lake in Taiwan, reconstruction of demolished communities of aborigines including the Tianhu tribes, the Meiyuan tribes and the Songhe tribes, etc., and reconstruction of over 500 ecological housings after Sichuan "5.12" earthquake in Wenchuan, Maoxian, Qingchuan, etc. in the mode of cooperative housing-construction. The basis of residence right of the victims primarily lies in participatory construction - the Government provides political assurance and land tenure for reconstruction; architects provide solutions for lower costs and technical difficulty, with environmental-friendly light steel and local resources to integrate into the local socio-cultural environments with openness; victims have the ability and willingness to build their house. Obviously, the "cooperative housing-construction" model calls for a combination of the public services by the government, non-profit services by the architects and social organizing and collaborating capacity of the disadvantaged groups (for example, victims of an earthquake) themselves. As to the right of residence, the issue is far more complicated as it is involved in legal issues, social issues and humanity issues.

From a legal perspective, China's Draft Property Law (2005) had provided in Article 180 that "The right of residence is the resident's right of occupying and using an apartment or a house and its ancillary facilities owned by others." However, the right of residence is not provided in the formally promulgated Property Law on October 1, 2007. The residency system was originally established by the Romans, which guaranteed the fundamental rights of living to the disadvantaged population and reflects the humanistic concerns of the civil law. It separates the right to own and the right to use, in order to make best use of the property. Recently, there have been rising voices for including the right of residence to the property law system in China. Similarly, explorations on "right of residence" in China have been made presently as in the interpretation of the Marriage Law (a) by the Supreme Court that renders the right of residence to the temporarily needy member of the family after divorce; in the provision of Announcement on Shifting to the New Standard Format of Public Housing Purchase Agreement for Working Families issued by Shanghai Bureau of Real Estate Resources that provides the residence right of the elderly; in the Law on Protection of the Rights and Interests of the Elderly published in January 1, 1999 that provides the residence right for the elderly.

From a social perspective, the right of residence is a basic proposition for protecting vulnerable groups. Its social value not only reflects in solving housing problem of the elderly, buffering the pressure on young apartment or house buyers and the divorced yet to find a place to live; but also has extensive impact on the social security for the entire population of migrant workers and interests-balancing mechanisms in land expropriation and demolition. To sum up, its social value covers many facet of the society including aging society, the migrant peasant-workers, building of a harmonious society, and so on.

From the perspective of humanity, the right of residence is entitled to a person as human-being to meet the living needs at the lowest levels of living and income, i.e., a basic human right. Right of residence is a basic guarantee mechanism in a modern civilized state system - to effectively solve the housing problems of disadvantaged groups (low-income groups) is a political task, a legal obligation and a social responsibility. And it calls for evolution on many aspects from "having a place to live" to "own a place to live".

Back to the cooperative housing-construction issue, it is an "advanced version" for disadvantaged groups to have the right of residence. It is a scenario management based on reconstruction which enables multiple participators to redesign, reorganize and rebuild to form a self-organizing system within the community, so that the members could help and cooperate with each other to protect their hard-won "right of residence". And it is a "possibility" of development for the disadvantaged group to help each other in an organized form. An architect with social concerns and willingness to engage in non-profit enterprises and practice the preach hold by Friedman that "Rather than be a stubborn in indulging personal sensory satisfaction, it would be better to serve the user by providing them with technical and organizational convenience....Return the home to the users, so that they could determine their own way of living and lifestyle randomly." This is an equal and developmental perspective in empowering the right of residence to the disadvantaged groups as it goes beyond the unsustainable mercy and giving to empowering the disadvantaged the approach to help themselves.

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