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Legislation Sought to Shield Poor

NPC deputies and CPPCC members have joined members of the public in calling for legislation to ensure an adequate stock of housing for low-income families in the face of rising property prices.

An online forum entitled "Submit your questions to the premier" on China Daily's website shows housing for low-income people is a key concern for many people.

The forum, a joint effort initiated by China Daily and 11 other domestic media companies, including CCTV, Xinhua, People's Daily and, was set up to give people a way to communicate their ideas to the premier and lawmakers. Besides housing, the forum also invites people to weigh in on inflation, healthcare and immigrant workers.

One person, using the alias "cinderellerzz", said she hoped housing prices are brought under control and that there is enough housing for all who need it.

"I hope there will be no discrimination against those who have left their hometowns and moved to the city," she said.

Yang Weichen, an NPC deputy and vice president of the All-China Lawyers Association, said the government should pass laws to protect people from the vicissitudes of the housing market.

"Any law should spell out the government's responsibility to ensure an adequate supply of housing, rather than a market-oriented regulation to maintain order in the real estate market," he said.

The housing supply should not be left solely to the market or developers' sense of social responsibility, and low- and middle-income families, need guarantees, he said.

He said the law should allow the government to arrange for non-profit organizations to build rooms that cannot be traded on the market.

Zhu Haiyan, an NPC deputy and vice president of Anhui Drama Theater, said the government should regulate how the housing provident fund is used, to ensure it benefits low-income families.

The fund allows banks to lend money to workers and retirees who want to buy or improve property at low interest rates. Rent is not covered by the fund.

Zhu suggested low-income families could be given the option of making a smaller first installment than is generally available.

She also said the government should provide loans at discounted rates and allow low-income families to withdraw money from the housing provident fund to pay for rent and property management fees.

Property prices have increased so much in recent years that they have become a political concern.

In 70 major cities, the year-on-year increase hit 11 percent in January. A typical household has to save for years just to afford a 70 sq m apartment.

And in cities such as Beijing, the growth in prices has been even faster. In January, the year-on-year increase for a new home hit 14.3 percent.

A netizen named Winston said it was time for the government to act before the bubble burst, leading to woes similar to those created by the subprime crisis in the United States.

Premier Wen Jiabao pledged in his government work report to support environment-friendly construction that conserves energy and land, increase the supply of small-and-medium-sized condominiums and help people find housing they can afford.

"Priority will be given to developing housing for low- and middle-income families," Wen said. "Demand for housing among high-income families will be met largely through the market."

He pledged to improve the system of providing low-rent housing to the poor by increasing the supply, and step up construction and tighten management of affordable housing to give low-income urban residents easier access to affordable housing.

(China Daily March 12, 2008)

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