THE EARTH TIMES
APRIL 15 – 30, 1996
Better living in Shanghai
BY ASHALI VARMA
SHANGHAI—When Jing Jun and her family were found a three room apartment by the
Housing Relief Project in Shanghai, with an attached bath and a kitchen, her life changed
For 18 years Jing, who is a senior teacher at Children’s Palace, a recreational center, and
her husband, Wang Zhijiang, who is a senior engineer at the Instruments Research Institute,
lived in a 155 square feet room, with her son and parents.
“We lived in the Nanshi district, an old part of Shanghai, and our room was on the second floor. We had no water or sanitation. The place was very hot in summer and very cold in winter,” Jing said.
Her only son, Wang Wenxin grew up here and ever since he can remember he slept on the one sofa the family had. “By the time I was 16 years old my feet used to stick out of the sofa,” said Wang.
“We had one table, half of which was used for dining on and the other half for the child to
study on,” Jing said.
There was no privacy and the grandparents spent their evenings reading the paper or listening to music on earphones so as not to disturb the others. A corner of the room was used as the kitchen. For cooking and washing up, water had to be carried in buckets up from the ground floor.
We used the public toilets 220 yards away and we had to bathe at work. I used to take my son to my school for a bath,”Jing said.
Their new apartment is large by comparison. The total area is 422 square feet and Jing proudly took her guests for a tour of the place. With a separate kitchen, a fully equipped bathroom with a washing machine, a living room, a bedroom for her son and a separate bedroom for them, Jing said, “I just cannot compare the difference. This move has made us so happy. I am grateful for the relief effort and it has helped others who work with me,” Jing said, “We paid a one time fee of 3000 RMB ($370) which will be repaid to us in five years time,” she said. The money is put in a pool to help other families.
Li Si Ming, a young man of 42, has been head of the Shanghai Housing Relief Project for 10
years. His father was a tailor and his mother worked in a textile mill. “From the time I was a teenager, my dream was to become a government administrator and help the poor,” Li said.
“In Shanghai, a city of about 12 million people, housing is a difficult task so the government put it as a priority. In 1987-88 we moved 15,221 families to larger and better housing. Not only did these families get more living space and all the utilities, they also had easy access to schools and clinics and shops,” Li said.
Financing for better housing has come from the local government and state owned companies. Total cost for the first relief effort came to $61 million.
“In the relief effort of 1991-92, we have helped another 31,808 families and the total cost till now has been 1.8 billion RMB ($222 million). Ninety nine percent of the families have moved into new housing and all of them were residents of Shanghai and had registered with the Housing Relief Project,” Li said.
Li Shujun, a factory worker, and his family live in the “Comfortable and Happy Community” project in New Shanghai. The son, Li Haobu, is 15 years old and goes to prestigious high school, which he qualified for on merit. His wife Zhu Liyu works with her husband, in a factory that makes electrical meters. “We used to live in a very small room in the city center. It was only 74 square feet and we had no sanitation or gas supply,” Li said.
Their new apartment is 740 square feet and they pay 30 RMB ($3.70) a month for it. With two bedrooms, a living room and modern bath and kitchen, the apartment is airy and spacious and has all the modern comforts.
Zhu said, “I feel very happy. I feel emancipated from hard work. Everything is available
in this apartment. I am always in a good mood now.”
“The government has made a lot of effort to help people get good housing but the system is not sustainable because it is all free,” Li said, “So we carried out reform on relief efforts from free to paid.”
The families are categorized according to the income levels, and the government, state owned companies and individuals pay toward housing relief. “This new system started in 1995 and the people are very supportive. From 1992-95 another 10,000 families got better housing,” Li said.
“I have another 60,000 families who have applied for better housing and I am confident that with the support and leadership of the local government we will be able to help them,” he said.
Across the Nanpu bridge, east of the Huangpu river is East Shanghai. Five years ago, there were paddy fields in this area. Today, it has wide roads and rows of apartment complexes, gleaming new, beautifully landscaped with trees and greenery.
In the Shang Nan Ju Chun complex, where there are over 2,000 apartments, live three
generations of the Zhang family, grandparents, parents and a son.
“We moved in here three years ago,” Zhang Ying Rui said, “Before, we used to live in a room
that was only 222 square feet and we lived there for 30 years. There were ten of us then, including my brother, his wife and child and my sister and her child.”
They had no gas or sanitation and had to use public toilets and bathe at work. The grandfather, Zhang Mingde, said, “It was so overcrowded that in summer we stayed out till very late because it was hot and there were so many of us. We used coalto cook and our
kitchen was in the corridor. Water had to be carried up two floors. We all slept on mattresses on the floor.”
Their new apartment has all the facilities and is spacious at 845 square feet. The family bought the place for 80,000 RMB ($9,875).
The Shanghai Housing Relief Project has become a model for other cities. In recognition of the remarkable efforts of this venture, the Shanghai Housing Relief Project was given an award on October 2nd, 1995 on World Habitat Day by the United Nations Center For Human Settlements (UNCHS).
The relief project was started in 1987 by President Jiang Zhemin, who was then the Mayor of Shanghai.
Li said, “The President is a practical man. It was he who saw the need to initiate this project and gave orders for the Government of Shanghai to do concrete things for its citizens.”