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Call for Officials to Be Judged on Housing Efforts

The quality of the housing occupied by the poor should serve as a vital criterion in evaluating the performance of local government officials, a senior urban construction official said yesterday.

The proposal represents the latest step by the central government to ensure poor urbanites are sheltered from the red-hot property market.

"We have made clear-cut goals (in housing the poor) that are easy to quantify and (to use) to judge local governments," Shen Jianguo, director of the residential property division under the Ministry of Construction, said yesterday.

A State Council meeting pledged last month to make houses available at low rents or to provide subsidies to help poor people in large and medium-sized cities by the end of this year.

The coverage will be extended to 10 million low-income families across the country by 2010.

These efforts mark the first time a top government body, instead of an individual ministry, has developed a detailed housing plan targeting the urban poor.

While different goals are subject to different deadlines, "it's easy for local governments to achieve their goals by cutting their tasks into several different stages," Shen said in an online interview yesterday.

Shen did not mention how officials who fall short of their goals would be punished.

The new evaluation criterion comes as central authorities have struggled to push through housing policies for the poor because local governments have reluctant to rein in their profitable property markets.

While lauding the government's determination, experts and the public doubt whether the new rules will have much effect on local governments.

By the end of 2006, 512 of 657 cities on the Chinese mainland had initiated affordable housing strategies, but only 268,000 households of the low-income families nationwide, have benefited from them.

Yi Xianrong, an expert with the China Academy of Social Sciences, said the government should provide subsidies and favorable interest and tax rates for low and medium income earners, which account for about 70 percent of the total population.

(China Daily September 19, 2007)

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