Chongqing has made a big step forward in one of the mainland's most difficult reform areas - housing. It has become the first city to allow immediate resale of housing sold at subsidised prices to employees of state companies and institutions, the head of its Real Estate Asset Trading Centre, Zhou Linfang, said yesterday. Ms Zhou said the move would apply to buyers of such apartments in central areas with a population of more than one million people and will extend to all areas of the city from July 1. Other cities allow resale of such subsidised apartments but only after a time limit, usually five years. The central government encourages state firms and institutions to sell their apartments to employees who occupy them to reduce maintenance burdens and to stimulate the housing market. The price - calculated according to the length of service of the employee, his rank, age and the condition of the apartment - is a fraction of the market price, as low as 10-20 per cent, which is the reason for the restrictions on resale. Chongqing decided to scrap the restriction to stimulate the housing market and encourage people to take money out of the bank and buy their own apartments, Ms Zhou said. Her centre offers a market for commercial and residential properties, with representatives of developers, as well as registration of leases and consultancy. 'It will put more liquidity into our real estate market. A person can purchase from his work-unit such a subsidised apartment only once.' For example, an employee who has worked in a state firm for more than 20 years can buy an apartment with usable area of 70 square metres in a downtown district for about 26,000 yuan (about HK$24,174) and then resell it for 200,000 yuan. Like other big mainland cities, Chongqing has a glut of empty commercial apartments and tens of thousands of people wanting to buy their own homes but unable to afford them. As of the end of last year, it had 1.5 million square metres of empty space, 60 per cent of it residential, with prices ranging from 3,000 yuan per sq metre in central areas to less than 1,000 yuan in suburban districts. But the average disposal income of Chongqing's six million urban residents last year was only 6,100 yuan, while that of its 24 million rural residents was 1,900 yuan. The average rent its urban residents pay is 0.84 yuan per sqmetre per month, below the national average of 1.21 yuan and ranking 28th among the mainland's 36 largest cities. Many people do not want to buy their apartment, even at a subsidised price, when they are paying such a low rent. The latest reform is an attempt to persuade them to do so. Ms Zhou said local banks would this year sharply increase the amount of loans available to individuals to buy their own homes.