Housing activist joins Shenzhen poll of the poor

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 September, 2007, 12:00am

Shenzhen housing activist Zou Tao returned to the city from his home province, Hunan, yesterday to be counted on the first day of a government survey of low-income residents struggling to afford housing.

He said the survey could be seen as a victory for his campaign and would expose the scale of the housing problem.

Mr Zou, 33, was noted last year when he called for a three-year boycott on housing purchases in a bid to cool the overheating property market. He received support online, with more than 30,000 people signing his petition for the boycott.

While prices are continuing to climb, Mr Zou said he was confident the market would cool before 2009, particularly now that the government had initiated a survey to assess the need for low-income housing.

Mr Zou and at least 18 others yesterday went to a community centre to register for the survey, which runs until the end of the month. He estimated more than 300,000 people would register.

To be eligible to register, a family has to have an annual income of less than 100,000 yuan and total assets of less than 400,000 yuan. At least one member of the family must have a Shenzhen identity card and the family cannot own a house bigger than 10 square metres per family member.

Since Mr Zou's launched his campaign, home prices in Shenzhen have continued to surge, hitting an average of about 14,500 yuan per square metre in June.

But he said he could see a real change in the local government's attitude. 'The turning point may come soon. Since August it has been hard for speculators to borrow money in Shenzhen,' he said, adding he was still advising people not to buy.

Mr Zou said the survey was a signal that the authorities would build low-income housing, which would bring down the price of property.

His vision has a chance of success if the governments' projects can be brought to fruition on schedule. The city announced last year that it would build 690,000 housing units by 2010. About 140,000 of them would be reserved for low-income households to rent at subsidised rates.

When Mr Zou rose to national attention last year, he was bombarded with requests for interviews about his campaign, but state media soon imposed a news blackout on his story.

He was detained for several hours at Shenzhen airport on May 12 last year when he tried to leave for Beijing in a bid to hand the petition to Premier Wen Jiabao .

Earlier this year, Mr Zou said he had had to close his golf equipment and clothing shop because of 'difficulties' and returned to Hunan. He declined to elaborate.

Hu Juan, a senior property agent, said the survey, coming after the frequent release of market tightening measures in recent months, would encourage more investors to adopt a cautious approach.

Value plummets

Primary market sales dropped to 4.1 billion yuan last month

This represents a year-on-year drop in sales of 30%

Source: Midland China's Shenzhen branch



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