Opinion / Zhu Yuan

Fight affordable housing theft

By Zhu Yuan (China Daily) Updated: 2013-01-17 08:14

Fight affordable housing theft

A probe into the case involving a girl known as fang mei (housing sister) and her father in Zhengzhou, Central China's Henan province, has resulted in the father, the head of the housing management department of a district in Zhengzhou, being arrested. However, the story is far from over.

The official was charged with committing crimes by taking advantage of his position. He, his wife, daughter and son had each illegally obtained a second hukou, or household registration permit, and they were found to own 24 properties. At one time they had 31 houses in their possession. Another two members of staff at the housing administration bureau, who were found to have taken advantage of their positions to illegally profit from the sale of affordable houses are also being investigated.

Conducting an Internet search on subsidized housing in Zhengzhou, I found a list of names of officials that have been sentenced to prison for their involvement in the illegal buying and selling of affordable houses or other social security houses.

The central government gives preferential policies in terms of the use of land and taxes for the development of social security housing, which are meant to improve the living conditions of low-income residents.

However, real estate developers are not interested in developing such housing because of the too thin profits. As a result, some local governments allow developers to construct a certain proportion of commercial housing on the land for affordable housing as an incentive. Gluttonous officials take advantage of such policies to get kickbacks from developers by allowing them to build more commercial houses. Some officials profit by collaborating with developers to sell subsidized houses at higher prices to people that should be ineligible for such housing.

In one case, only 200 out of more than 300 units of affordable housing went into the lottery for applicants for such homes. Government officials traded the rest for illegal gains. There have been previous reports about the abuse of power in the distribution of low-income housing in Shenzhen, where some wealthy people and government officials, who should be ineligible for such housing, have been discovered living in the properties.

Subsidized housing and other affordable housing is a means of wealth redistribution, letting low-income residents enjoy the fruits of economic reform and opening-up. Both the central and local governments have invested a lot of money in such realty projects. It is also one of the important means for the government to narrow the wealth gap and finally realize common prosperity by improving the living conditions of low-income residents.

Those who profiteer in such housing through abuse of power are actually stealing the money that the government is trying to give to low-income residents to improve the quality of their life. The more money they steal, the less those who are entitled to such welfare will get. Narrowing the wealth gap is an urgent task for the government in its efforts to make development sustainable and maintain social stability. What these abusers of power have done is equivalent to undermining the efforts of the central government in this regard.

So there is every reason for such power abusers to receive the most severe punishment in accordance with the law. Any leniency shown to them will encourage more officials to do the same. If the central government cares about narrowing the wealth gap and cares about the role affordable and other security housing plays in achieving the goal, it needs to adopt measures to mete out the severest penalties to such crimes in line with the law.

That many officials can get involved in the business of trading affordable houses suggests that the supervision over the whole process, from the approval of land use to the inviting of tenders and then the distribution of the houses, is extremely poor.

Obviously, a detailed mechanism needs to be developed to plug the loopholes in the system and prevent greedy government officials from illegally getting involved.

Only a severe crackdown on the abuse of power in this regard and the launching of an effective supervision mechanism will help prevent affordable and other security housing from becoming a breeding ground for corruption.

The author is a senior writer with China Daily.

(China Daily 01/17/2013 page8)

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