Rising rents crushing dreams

Updated: 2011-09-09 16:24


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BEIJING - Happiness weighs heavily on the minds of most people from time to time, but rising rents are practically crushing Beijing's white-collar workers, tearing them away from a sense of happiness and dream-fulfillment.

"After living in Beijing for two years, I felt pressured to get a better education in order to get a better job, so I left Beijing. Now, I've returned and the pressures of soaring rent prices leave me breathless," said Li Han, a 28-year-old woman from northeast China's Heilongjiang province who landed a job in a public relations firm after obtaining her masters degree.

Li makes 4800 yuan ($751) each month and shares a two-bedroom apartment with one roommate. They have watched their rent rise from 4000 yuan in February to 4600 yuan in September.

"The rent grabs not just half of my salary, but also the happiness and enthusiasm of a young woman with dreams and plans for the future," Li said, adding that she can not even afford to see a movie or go to the theater, which used to be her favorite ways to unwind.

In August, the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Beijing was about 3250 yuan, up 11 percent year-on-year, according to a report on the local rental market by Homelink Real Estate.

Meanwhile, in the first half of 2011, the average per-capita income of Beijing's urban residents rose by only 4.4 percent after adjusting for commodities inflation, said an official with the municipal development and reform commission.

Li has an advanced educational background and a steady job, so, she says, things could be worse.

"How many people struggle to squeeze into packed subway lines or make hours-long bus commutes from the city's five or six huge rings? Maybe I don't have the right to complain," said Li.

In 2010, the average annual salary in Beijing was 50,415 yuan, or about 4201 yuan per month, according to statistics from Beijing's municipal statistics bureau.

As a working couple, rent consumes nearly one-third of our total income unless we decide to live tens of miles away, said a man surnamed Zhao who works for the technical staff of an IT company.

After working in Beijing for more than five years, Zhao and his wife's dreams of owning an apartment were shattered when the municipal government implemented a home purchase restriction order in an effort to stabilize runaway housing prices.

"For years, we did not have enough to put a down payment on a 'home.' But as we approached our dream, we were forced to stop as we have no hukou [household registration], and could not provide five consecutive years' tax certification," said Zhao, who is from northwest China's Gansu province.

Like Zhao, thousands of other white-collar workers have no Beijing hukou, or resident permit issued by the government of China, limiting their access to social benefits in cities where they are not registered and making it difficult to own a home outside of the area for which they have a hukou.

"Maybe we will have to leave Beijing, as we are planning to have a baby. We don't want the next generation to share our feelings of being an alien in a city with no right to have a family 'home,'" Zhao said.

To Zhao and many others living in but not belonging to Beijing for lack of a hukou, surging rent prices are more of an immediate concern than overblown housing prices.

The core issue is Beijing's unbalanced housing supply and demand, said Hu Jinghui, vice president of 5i5j Real Estate Service Company in Beijing.

Moreover, China's soaring CPI, the steep ratio of buying to renting costs, and the real estate agencies' malicious speculation all contribute to the rising rents in Beijing, he said.

"Living the desperate lives of renters, we have to scrimp on daily expenses, which deeply affects our senses of happiness and quality of life," said Li.

Dai Haifei, a 24-year-old college graduate from Hunan province, built a solar-powered, egg-shaped abode on the side of the road near his company's building in Beijing's Haidian district. The small, single-door structure with just enough room for a bed and nothing else cost 6,400 yuan. It was removed in the winter of 2010 after the urban management office cited the structure as a fire hazard.

"With our salaries, it would take about 200 or 300 years to buy an apartment in Beijing," Dai, whose mother and father are both blue-collar workers, told reporters in 2010.

Despite aggressively rising rent prices, China's capital continues to attract people with its employment opportunities and abundance of social resources, like medical and educational institutions. The high demand is supporting soaring rent prices, but the government has already gone to task with the issue, Hu said.

China's disciplinary watchdog is tightening its supervision over the construction of affordable housing projects nationwide, using billions of yuan in government funding.

The Beijing municipal government has set up a fund to push forward the affordable housing project. Around 1 million affordable apartments will be built by 2015 with the fund's registered capital of about $1.5 billion.

Officials say it will help real estate developers obtain crucial financing and accelerate the development of low-cost housing.

Despite these efforts, the trend of rising rents in the mega-city of Beijing is likely to continue considering its booming population and the country's soaring CPI, said Hu.

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