In Chongqing, public rental housing eases housing distress of urban less well-off

14:33, February 14, 2011      

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As the southwestern city of Chongqing's ambitious public rental housing project began accepting applications this week, the less well-off there may finally be free from the distress, common among their counterparts in other Chinese cities, over dauntingly high housing prices.

Under the city government's plan, the project, which began construction last year, will build 40 million square meters of apartment buildings in the next three years to house two million low- and middle- income people who are over the age of 18 and live in Chongqing's urban center, but who do not own their homes there or live in extremely small homes.

That would mean one-third of the population in Chongqing's urban center may be covered by public rental housing, with rent 40 percent less than that of comparable commercial housing once the project is completed.

Chongqing is one of the four municipalities under the direct jurisdiction of the central government.

Chongqing was the first major Chinese city to begin a public housing project on such a large scale.

Chongqing's vice mayor, Ling Yueming, announced Friday at a press conference that one-tenth of the total public rental housing will be allocated to eligible applicants through a lottery on March 2.

For Tong Xiaoqiong, 61, who became Chongqing's first eligibility-verified applicant on Saturday, winning this lottery will be a huge relief due to her current hardship and perhaps even consolation for her life's sufferings.

A retired worker from a bankrupt state-owned factory, Tong had lost her husband and their only two children to illness or accidents, one after another, by 2005, the year she sold her only apartment to pay medical bills.

Since then, she has been living alone in shabby rented apartments and moved four times when she could not afford increases in her rent. Now living in a one-bedroom apartment where dust frequently falls from ceilings, Tong said she was happy and felt grateful to the government for providing affordable housing for her.

After all, her minimal pension can in no way pay for a decent rented apartment, like those in the housing project, or for purchasing an apartment in China's housing market where prices continue to rise despite a series of government market-cooling measures.

Housing used to be a social benefit and was provided by the government for free in Chinese cities before the market reform of the housing system in 1998.

Since the government stopped providing free urban housing, real estate companies have sprung up and the real estate market boomed. Along with this booming market, housing prices have been skyrocketing over the past decade to a degree that most of the urban less well-off see their dreams of owning a home beyond reach.

That was the reality for Gao Jing. Gao, a 29-year-old migrant worker, has been working in Chongqing' s urban center for 13 years. She said buying a commercial apartment was unthinkable for her and her husband.

"A rented home will always be a rented home. You can be kicked out at any time. Since I have a baby now, my longings for owning a home have become ever stronger, even if it's just a one-bedroom apartment," said Gao who, along with thousands of people, came to a public rental housing information station on Saturday.
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