Government departments and state firms are rushing to allocate apartments to their staff before a nationwide mainland ban on subsidised accommodation. Last month, Prime Minister Zhu Rongji promised to end provision of subsidised urban housing to employees of the system of state firms and institutions in the second half of this year. While the government drafts the detailed regulations, which could be published at any time, employees who have not been allocated an apartment by their work units are rushing to obtain one before the ban takes effect. 'Of course we want such an apartment,' said an official of one government department in his 30s, still too young to have been given one. 'The rent is much cheaper than in the commercial market and it is the work unit's responsibility to maintain and repair it.' Some work units were allocating yet-to-be-built apartments, although this might not be legal, he said. 'If the building is 80 per cent complete, then you can allocate it.' Some Beijing people believe the government has issued an emergency order to implement the ban. Dai Buhe, a bureau chief in the Information Centre of the Ministry of Construction, said that while the rush to buy was understandable, it was based on a misunderstanding of official policy. The aim was to persuade people to buy their own homes with money from their company's housing fund to which they had contributed and from bank financing, he said. 'We will raise rents until people realise that it is in their economic interest to buy rather than rent.' Banks in Beijing are prepared to lend up to 70 per cent of the purchase price for a period not exceeding 20 years to people with a city residence permit and a stable income, as long as they have a guarantee from their work unit or an insurance company. A flat of 60 square metres in Beijing from a work unit costs 60 yuan (about HK$55.86) a month to rent, against 1,500 yuan for one of a similar size on the commercial market.