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Measures to Ensure Affordable Housing

National guidelines on economically affordable housing were released on Friday night along with new state measures on housing for low-income families, which come into effect on Saturday.

Economically affordable houses ought to be around 60 sq m per unit, said the guidelines jointly released by the Ministry of Construction, the National Development and Reform Commission, and five other ministries.

It said eligible purchasers will "have limited property rights", and that the apartments can only be directly sold after five years.

Moreover, the document limited fundraising for cooperative housing units to independent mining corporations on the outskirts of cities and enterprises with a significant number of employees with housing problems, while stressing that they must do so with their own properties.

Eligible applicants of the Measure on Low-rent Housing Security, meanwhile, are no longer limited to city households with the lowest income, but will also include all lower-income urban families with housing issues.

Government subsidies, the usual means of securing housing for these social groups, are to be gathered from rental fees on low-rent housing, credit risk reserves, housing provident funds, social donations and security funds. Local governments must also spend 10 percent of the local land-use fees on developing low-rent housing, said the measure, released by nine ministries on Monday.

Because situations vary across the 656 cities that had adopted the mechanism as of October, the measure allows special funds to be allocated to central and western regions that find it financially difficult to support the construction of low-rent homes.

Additionally, the construction area of these apartments, limited to 50 sq m per unit, should be granted preferential status on a stand-alone basis in land supply schemes and annual land-use applications.

Months earlier, the central government urged local governments to reserve at least 70 percent of the land designated for residential construction for units under 90 sq m. But since the housing security system is expected to cover all low-income Chinese families by 2010, implementation of the new measure and relevant policies has a long way to go.

Figures from the Ministry of Construction show that nearly 10 million households still live in a housing space, per capita, of less than 10 sq m. Up to the end of 2006, only 268,000 families, or 6.7 percent of all households living on a minimum allowance, and 2.7 percent of all low-income households in China, had benefited from low-rent housing policies.

Despite a record 7.04 billion yuan (US$9.52 million) of central government investment in low-income housing so far this year, 50 billion yuan is needed every year for the next five years to continue to broaden coverage, the People's Daily reported.

To address the housing problems of urban low-income families, for example, Shanghai is to pour in a total of 2 billion yuan in providing 500,000 sq m of low-rent apartments by the end of this year, Shanghai's Jiefang Daily reported on Friday.

The money will come from the 8.3 billion yuan coffers of the Shanghai public housing reserve fund.

Cong Chen, a staffer at the Department of Policy and Regulation of Shanghai Provident Fund Management Center, confirmed the information.

The project, launched last month, has already secured 150,000 sq m of land in Jiading, Baoshan and several other districts in Shanghai, 70 percent of which are completed flats.

These flats are said to be located in areas with comparatively mature transportation and living facilities, such as metro stations and bus stops, for the convenience of low-income tenants, the Jiefang Daily said.

(China Daily December 1, 2007)

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