Sandwiched white-collar Chinese fret over soaring rents

08:09, January 18, 2011      

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Wu Di, working as a secretary at a department at the elite Peking University, has to sacrifice privacy for lower rent.

She now shares one room of a two-bedroom apartment, furnished with two single beds, and splits the monthly rent of 1,500 yuan (224 U.S. dollars) with a female friend.

Wu moved to the new apartment two weeks ago. She used to share a two-bedroom apartment with a family of three, after she graduated from college in June 2010.

"I paid 1,250 yuan monthly. It was too much for me as I only earned 3,000 yuan a month," said Wu. "Besides, the family next door was very noisy."

Although the current rent relieved her financial difficulty a bit, she hoped to pay less.

"Nearly one-third of my salary goes to rent. I am always very careful about spending money," she said.

A survey done by the China Youth Daily Survey Center in December last year showed that 81.6 percent of 4,060 surveyed tenants around China thought that their rent had increased, and 80.6 percent said the soaring rent has greatly affected their lives.

More and more young, white-collar Chinese have found themselves in an embarrassing situation: they have to bear a heavy financial burden from soaring rent and housing prices while not qualifying to enjoy preferential policies the government offers to low-income people, such as low-rent apartments.

Lu Wei, a programmer working at a leading portable website, witnessed the housing rent increasing over the past four years.

"It would cost nearly 1,000 yuan less per month for a midium-decorated two-bedroom apartment in 2006," he said, now sharing a two-bedroom apartment with a friend near Beijing's downtown.

Liu Qingzhu, research fellow with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, argued that housing rent has taken up too much of young people's income.

"Spending one-third or even a half of their income in housing rent is too much. They need money to do many other things, such as purchase decent clothes, study and for entertainment," Liu said.

Also, rent is not the only thing troubling young tenants.

During his four-and-a-half-year stay in Beijing, Lu has moved into new apartment five times.

In 2008, he was forced to move out of an apartment because the landlord wanted to increase the rent as the market price rose around the community.

"Mostly the landlord has the say. Contracts usually do not mean anything. If you do not agree with a rental increase, you have to move out," Lu said.

"The problem is, no matter how much the rent is, there will be people willing to pay," Lu said. "That's why housing rents keeps soaring."

According to Homelink, a leading real estate brokerage agency in Beijing, the average monthly rent stood at 3,182 yuan (474 dollars) in December last year.

Lu had thought of settling down but housing prices were beyond what he could afford.

The average price for a new apartment in Beijing reached 20,000 yuan (2,985 U.S. dollars) per square meter, and for a second-hand apartment stood at 16,000 yuan per square meter.

Liu Qingzhu suggested that the government should pay more attention to this group of young people.

"New graduates especially need help. The government can provide some preferential housing policies to help them adapt to the first few years of work," he said.

For example, he said, the government can open some low-rent houses to them or specially arrange for youth apartments.

"The proper rent may be around 500 yuan for one room or even less," he said. "After working for several years with a better financial situation, they can move on to buy an apartment or rent a better one."

In fact, the Chinese government has started to build more low-rent housing projects and public rental projects.

Last year, the country started to build 5.9 million government-subsidized apartments, and that number will reach 10 million in 2011, said Jiang Weixin, minister of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, at a meeting last month.

Also, a new regulation on leasing commercial property, to take effect in February, forbids landlords from increasing rent unilaterally during the lease.

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