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China Vows to Improve Housing for Low-income Groups
The world's most populous country is planning to improve housing for medium and low-income families in its cities and towns, where many families still live in cramped conditions.

China built many apartment buildings in the last decade, but urban living conditions still lagged behind those in developed countries, Vice-Minister of Construction Liu Zhifeng told an International Conference on Financing Social Housing, which opened Tuesday in Baotou City, north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

Many Chinese, who once experienced grave housing shortages, now find their rooms shabby and overshadowed by rapidly erected luxury apartments and villas built for the minority of affluent people over the past 20 years.

Nationwide there are 150 million square meters of old or unsafe housing awaiting renovation, and 1.56 million urban households -- 1.1 percent of the total -- do not have enough living space.

Many of the low-income families are still close-packed in outdated residential areas in cities and towns, Liu said.

The country would accelerate the establishment of a sound housing security system, looking for stable housing funds, expanding affordable housing projects and building a low-rate rental system, according to officials of the Ministry of Construction.

China began to explore new housing systems to meet the demands of a market economy in the early 1980s, and finally put an end to the old one, under which each work unit distributed houses to its employees as a benefit.

A blueprint was formed in the late 1990s under which, the poorest families rent low-rate houses provided by the government or work units; medium and low-income families purchase low-price houses; rich families buy or rent commercial houses at fair market prices.

More than 100 million square meters of low-price housing is built in every year, or more than half the total housing, statistics show. Such housing is welcomed by medium and low-income families, but falls short of demand in cities like Beijing, and Wuhan and Nanjing, two economic centers along the Yangtze River.

The government would encourage medium and low-income families to buy homes through preferential taxation. Government-encouraged mortgage and credit assurance businesses are also getting under way, with supporting tax policies and laws, the vice-minister said.

China's housing industry would be developed with the use of new technologies and materials, outdated products would be banned so as to improve building quality, he added.

The government had introduced many schemes to improve medium and low-income families' living conditions over the past decade, such as lower taxes, support for house building by raising funds collectively, and speeding up the renovation of old or unsafe buildings.

Baotou, a medium-sized city, has been successful in improving housing for its medium and low-income households.

The per capita living space for Baotou citizens was only 16 square meters in 1995. An earthquake in 1996 left one million people homeless. The city took a series of measures, giving financial support, raising funds among local residents and providing housing loans for medium and low-income families, which helped quake victims quickly move into new houses.

Baotou twice won international awards for improving the living environment.

(Xinhua News Agency August 8, 2002)

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