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Wen's Call Spurs More Affordable Housing for Low-income Families

For a half century, retired miner Wang Wenzhang lived in little more than a shack in a shanty town called Modigou, in northeast China's Fushun, Liaoning Province. His one, long-cherished dream was to live in a place where the roof didn't leak.


"We had six people crammed into a shed of less than 25 square meters. In summer we had to ladle out water after storms and in winter the cold wind would blow in a thick layer of dust. We got water from a well and had to queue up to use the public toilet in the morning." said Wang, 79, recalling his life in Modigou.


Wang's shed was a typical makeshift dwelling near northeast China's coal mining industries. Sometimes the shacks were home to three or four generations of poor miners.


In recent years, the central government has focused its attention on housing problems of the poor. Adequate housing for people with low income is the "Number One" proposal submitted to this year's full session of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) which began on March 3.


Fortunately for Wang, his dream of leaving the Modigou slum came true just before last year's Chinese Lunar New Year. In fact, the whole shanty town was replaced by 13 new apartment buildings, providing decent dwellings for about 900 households.


On February 16, two days before this year's Chinese New Year's Spring Festival, Premier Wen Jiabao visited the low-income families in Fushun city and was shown around the new Modigou housing estate.


It was Wen's second trip to Fushun. After his first visit in 2003, Wen, who was clearly moved by the people's plight, issued a strong directive to the provincial government. He ordered immediate measures to improve the lives of local miners. His order triggered a mass reconstruction of the province's shanty towns.


Although Wang's new flat is just 10 square meters larger than the old shed, his family's life has been dramatically improved. "We only paid 6,570 yuan (about US$900) to move in here and we will never have to queue up for toilets again," Wang joked.


In China's old industrial base of Liaoning Province, governments have built 6,300 new residential buildings since 2005. More than 1.2 million people like Wang have been relocated from slums covering 50,000 square meters.


This year the central government says it will do more to improve conditions in shanty towns, as Premier Wen promised on March 5 in his annual work report.


The Premier vowed to help fix the housing problems of all low-income families. "We will improve fiscal and tax policies to increase support and establish a sound system of low-rent housing. We will improve and standardize the system of affordable housing." Wen pledged.


At the end of 2006, 512 of China's 657 cities had initiated affordable housing strategies. The Ministry of Construction is requiring all Chinese cities to fully implement a plan to provide affordable housing by the end of this year.


However, Zheng Gongcheng, professor with prestigious Renmin University and a deputy to this year's National People's Congress (NPC), says China still has a long way to go before its housing problems for low income people are addressed.


"China's affordable housing is only available to a small percentage of households that classified as low-income. A huge number of families don't fall into this category, yet they can't afford to buy a flat and they don't get backup from government policies," Zhang said.


(Xinhua News Agency March 6, 2007)

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