Shanghai yesterday unveiled a pilot scheme to provide publicly subsidised housing for the city's poorest residents. The new mechanism aims to give up to 120,000 low-income families the chance to rent or buy subsidised housing within two years. The programme places the responsibility for building the homes on individual districts. This is intended to counter recent criticism that residents are being forced to take homes in the outskirts while their downtown homes are razed to make way for new developments. Each year, districts and counties under the city's administration are to build at least one unit of public housing for every 20 private homes completed within their boundaries that year. The Shanghai government promised that the allocation of homes would be open, fair and just. However, the policy document issued yesterday sets out few of the criteria for residents to qualify for the scheme. It merely says that applicants need to be 'within the required age group', earning 'below the set level' and be living in homes with an area 'below the set level'. Liu Haisheng , the city's public housing chief, said a certain amount of flexibility would be needed. 'If household earnings go up, then we will consider relaxing the rules,' he said. Following a public consultation conducted in February, the initial maximum for monthly household earnings is expected to be set at 2,300 yuan (HK$2,600), and residents would need to have homes smaller than 15 square metres. Mr Liu said Shanghai had an 'unusually high number' of people in poor housing and pledged the city would build 'as many homes as possible'. He rejected concerns that too much public housing could affect the private market. However, the programme will be of no benefit to most of the city's lowest-paid workers, who will not qualify as they were not born locally. Further, the homes will only be available to residents who hold a hukou, or permanent resident's permit, or who have held a temporary resident's permit long enough to qualify for the hukou according to new rules released last week - five to seven years' residency, depending on their circumstances. Over 6 million of Shanghai's 18.6 million inhabitants did not have a local hukou at the end of 2007. By the end of last year, only 240,000 had qualified for a temporary resident's permit - first introduced on a limited scale in 2002 - and so far just 3,000 have had one for the full seven years.