Construction of low- rent housing is a priority in western China where the most needy people live in out-of-date, low-quality homes often without tap water or toilet facilities.
Per capita living space is often less than the national average of 20 sq m in western regions where the underdeveloped economy has reduced living conditions to a much lower level than in central and east China, a ministry of construction official told an on- going international conference on financing social housing, which opened Tuesday in Baotou City, north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.
The latest official survey shows that per-capita floor space in 21 major cities in the west is only 17 square meters. Poor families in western cities, four percent of urban residents, dwell in old or unsafe places, such as clay-tampered shelters or old buildings without kitchens and toilets, or simple plank cabins.
"International communities basically promise that every person should have adequate housing," said Daniel Biau, a senior UN official in charge of human settlements, said.
As the largest developing country with a population of over 1.3 billion, China would contribute tremendously to protecting disadvantaged groups, if it could solve the housing problems of the most needy people in west China, he noted.
The Chinese government would spend one billion yuan (US$120 million) each year on building low-rent homes in western cities or rent subsidies for the poorest families, said to Wen Linfeng, an official with the Ministry of Construction.
Three leading western cities, Chengdu, Xi'an and Kunming, had made successful attempts in setting up low-rent systems. Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province in the southwest, last year paid housing benefits to the 580 lowest-income families whose annual earnings were below 6,500 yuan (US$780).
The city planned to extend the benefit to 1,000 more households this year, and had enacted regulations governing the renovation of older and poorer districts with unsafe housing and bad sanitary conditions, said a local public house property bureau official.
In Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi province in the northwest, a total of 264 low-rent apartments, or 14,000 sq m in total floor space, were completed at the end of the last year and have all been rented out.
Li Zhiyong, a laid-off worker in Xi'an, and his family were among the first group of families to move into new apartments.
"The house is better than we have expected, with simple interior decoration, a tiled floor, and a decent toilet. We can finally live a secure life," Li said.
The low-rent system had become an essential part of China's social security systems, together with the medical insurance, pensions insurance and the minimum income subsidy, Liu Zhifeng, vice-minister of construction, said.
The implementation of the system in the west would help maintain social stability, promote economic growth in minority regions and ensure progress of the country's Western Development strategy, he noted.
Yet the system was still in its infancy in most western cities, and fund shortages were common, according to Wen. And a large number of urban families still do not have their own homes or sufficient living space in 166 cities of 12 provinces and autonomous regions, Wen added.
Experts suggest that central and local governments should set aside money to guarantee funds to run the system, which should focus on subsidies, with a supply of low-rent housing in reserve as a means to boost rental markets and encourage needy families to seek better homes.
( China Daily August 8, 2002)