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China Improves People's Living Conditions
China has reduced the number of urban households which do not have enough living space to 1.56 million, or 1.1 percent of the total, thanks to the great efforts made over the past more than 20 years.

"This means that China has left behind an era during which urbanites suffered grave housing shortages," said Liu Zhifeng, vice-minister of Construction, at an International Conference on Financing Social Housing, which opened Tuesday in Baotou City in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

"This is another fundamental issue China expects to gradually resolve following its successful efforts to feed its huge population," Liu said.

Experts said although 1.56 million is no small number, China has really made big strides forward in improving overall living conditions when compared with its population of about 1.3 billion and considering the housing conditions in 1978, when about 47.5 percent of urban families did not have houses or did not have sufficient living space.

The per capita floor space was only seven square meters at that time.

Liu said, at present, the per capita floor space for urbanites is 21 square meters. China constructed less than 100 million sq m of housing each year in the 1980s, but now it completes 630 million sq m annually.

The per capita floor space for rural residents has increased to the current 25 sq m from 21.8 sq m in 1995.

China had a system under which each work unit distributed housing to its employees before the implementation of reform and opening-up policy in 1978, when China adopted a planned economic system. People paid very low rents when they moved into the houses, which was regarded as a kind of material benefit given by the state or workers.

However, the low rent also became a heavy burden for the state, adversely affecting the circulation of housing investment and slowing down the construction of new houses, finally resulting in an increasing number of people with no house to live in.

Architect Zhang Zaiyuan said housing distribution also led to many social problems like seniority being given priority, rigid social stratum and corruption.

China ushered in the housing reforms in urban areas at end of the 1970s, and in the early 1980s, adopted a housing investment system under which the state, work units and individuals jointly shouldered the housing costs. The floor space of completed housing in urban areas has increased rapidly since then.

Baotou is a medium-sized city in north China. A strong earthquake in 1996 left 1 million people homeless in the city.

The city has taken a series of measures, including using government financial support, fund-raising among local residents and providing housing loans for medium and low income families, that helped quake victims to soon move into new houses.

Baotou twice won the international awards for improving the living environment of local people.

China's housing reform aims to solve its housing problem through market forces.

(Xinhua News Agency August 7, 2002)

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