Housing Woes: Tossing the Mountain around

Xinhua / Enorth quoted sources from the National People’s Congress (NPC) Financial and Economic Committee (全国人大财经委员会) on Monday as saying that a bill on housing guarantee was taking shape at the ministry of housing and urban-rural development (住房和城乡建设部), and that the bill would be completed after taking further suggestions into consideration. During the third session of the Eleventh National People’s Congress in March this year, 193 delegates had brought six bills suggesting a systematization and stabilization of the housing guarantee system which has so far mostly been based on [apparently too vague – JR] policy provisions which couldn’t help meeting the demands of people with low and middle incomes. A system and a set of legal rules were required. The National People’s Congress Standing Committee and the State Council had included the issue in their legislation plans for 2010. The bill under preparation included basic standards, the scope and modalities of urban housing guarantees, construction and management, rental subsidies, financial and tax support [the latter may refer to tax breaks – JR], organization and implementation, and a rural housing guarantee system.

Housing is one of China’s more recent Three Big Mountains (三座大山) – the term used to refer to the great enemies from “Old China” to Mao’s New Democratic Revolution (新民主主义革命) concept: imperialism (帝国主义), feudalism (封建主义), and bureaucrat-capitalism (官僚资本主义). The Three Big Mountains today, apparently defined in an ironical reference to the past century, are more practical: the troubles of medical treatment (看病难), of housing (住房难, the problem in question here), and of public education or (elementary) schooling (上学难).

The housing guarantee law was listed in the State Council’s legislation plan for 2010 in March, according to a statement by the Legislative Affairs Office of the State Council’s vice director on March 7, responding to deputies’ suggestions on housing guarantee in a labor union group discussion.

In April 2006, China Daily quoted Qilu Evening News (齐鲁晚报, Jinan, Shandong Province) as commenting that it would be an outstanding political action if local governments could solve the problem of housing for low-income residents.

The ball now seems to be in the court of China’s political center to pass legislation – but the implementation, and the corresponding financial burden, will most likely be on the backs of the provincial and local governments. On the other hand, local governments owe much of their budgets to earnings from sales of landuse rights to real estate developers and to manufacturing industries in need of production sites. With these earnings in mind, hey have most likely been strong opponents to alternative plans of the recent past that could have provided simpler and more transparent ways of making housing rents affordable for low and middle incomes. Li Yining (厉以宁), president of Guanghua Management College at Beijing University, and deputy director of the Economic Commission under the 11th National Committee of the CPPCC, had brought a reverse auction model into play this year. The venue where Li made his suggestion was the Ministry of Land and Resources (国土资源部). His suggestion hasn’t been adopted.

While the ball is still in the State Council’s courtyard, it seems to have been passed on from the Ministry of Land and Resources to the ministry of housing and urban-rural development now. The enemy of the local budgets will hardly look as black on arrival at provincial China’s finance bureaus, as he does on his departure from Beijing – if he decamps there at all.

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Related
Another Convenient Scapegoat (article includes some 2010 statistics), Asia Times, July 21, 2010
2010: Make-or-Break Time for “Social Stability” (Three Big Mountains), January 4, 2010

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