Baloney of house prices

(China Daily)
Updated: 2011-06-08 07:56
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Media reports that the prices of new homes in major Chinese cities are plummeting at double-digit rates amount to nothing more than bunkum and wishful thinking.

Admittedly, shrinking sales of new apartments can be observed in most Chinese cities nowadays. But this is just a possible harbinger, not evidence, that property prices have begun to drop.

China's rocketing housing prices are so unpopular nowadays that they are blamed for delaying marriages and depressing Chinese consumption.

Media reports that new-home prices declined by more than 20 percent in Beijing followed a report that the capital has just unveiled the most expensive apartment ever built in the country, which is on sale for 300,000 yuan ($46,000) per sq m.

Local authorities have been quick to suspend sales of such unjustifiably expensive houses. But the far more important task for Chinese policymakers is to focus on fulfilling their promise of building 10 million government-subsidized residences this year if the country is to cool the property market in an orderly way.

After several years of vain attempts to rein in housing price hikes, the Chinese authorities have at last come to the obvious conclusion that a substantial increase in the supply of cheap houses will do the job.

The central government's plan to build 36 million government-subsidized housing units in the next five years has been hailed as a huge boost to the national campaign to curb soaring property prices and provide housing for workers with low incomes.

Had about one fifth of the country's more than 200 million urban households been able to move into apartments subsidized by the government, the surge in property prices would not have lasted long.

Given that China has already made it a top priority to fight inflation with tightening measures, the stabilization and then slump in urban house prices will be a sure bet as long as those subsidized housing units are constructed as planned.

Unfortunately, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development only began requiring local authorities to release construction plans and report details about the completed projects recently.

Lack of supporting policies to encourage private investment and the difficulties local governments face raising enough money for subsidized housing projects are understandable. But that does not mean misleading media reports about falling property prices can be made an excuse for local governments to drag their heels over building government-subsidized housing units.

It is estimated that the country needs to spend about 1.3 trillion yuan on these housing projects, with more than 500 billion of that coming from the central government and local governments.

This will certainly be a huge financial burden on government coffers. But if this is the price to avoid a disastrous property bust, it's worth it.

China Daily