With Beijing’s unreasonably high rent — four times less affordable than housing in New York City, migrant workers and students who live on low or no wages find their own ways to make living in the capital city a possibility: they become a member of the “ant tribe” (蚁族 yǐzú), dwelling in “slum”-like rooms with 10 or 20 other residents. New York Times once reported:
“Some communities of slum dwellers are called ‘rat tribes‘ because they live in damp, dark rooms located in one-time air-raid shelters and basements. Other migrant workers live in former villages that have been engulfed by the ever-expanding capital. (The state media’s euphemism for these is ‘villages inside cities.‘)
Both types of slums are tolerated by the state. The government turns a blind eye because it needs a large migrant workforce to provide the cheap manpower behind China’s astonishing urbanization. “
Just earlier this week, Chinese media discovered a 861 square foot apartment where 25 college students pay 800 yuan ($130) per month to live. The Epoch Times points out that “students wait at least two hours for a shower and sleep in beds less than a foot away from each other”. Although the world sighs at their living conditions, these students and migrant workers have no other way to obtain affordable housing.
However, it seems that the city of Beijing has finally decided to crackdown on the ant tribes who “group rent”. Chinese media reports that regulations were released on July 18 regarding rooms and apartments for rent. For each tenant, the average amount of living space has to be no lower than 5 square meters, and each room can house no more than 2 people. It is also specified that the space of a room cannot be divided to rent out, nor in the form of bunk beds, or renting out kitchen, bathroom, balcony and basement.
While the regulations seem to be ensuring tenants’ safety and improving their living conditions, they have been heavily criticized since the release. It was reasoned that passing a law or announcing regulations would not solve the problem because the real issue is Beijing’s sky-high housing prices. A Shenzhen newspaper explained the problem well:
“Under the high property price, more and more residents have steered from purchasing to renting. According to statistics from HomeLink, there is a great gap between Beijing’s apartments available for rent and the renting needs. At least 200,000 people have to share a room or ‘group-rent’ to successfully rent a place.”
Although the government has tried to regulate the housing market and lower prices, it was reported that out of the 70 middle-sized to mega cities, 69 cities’ housing prices have increased over the last year. Beijing’s increased by 16.7 percent, and the capital city’s rental fees also increased by 4.1 percent in a year. Netizens voiced their complaints and fear of rent rising further:
闫威达: Have some face, alright? Those who group-rent, who wouldn’t rather live in a place by themselves? It is because of those stupid landlords, they find excuses to increase the rent every few days. They say transportation has gotten more convenient, so the price is going up. Or that rent for other places in the area has gone up, so he is increasing it too. Instead of putting put regulations to lower the housing price and rent, they just know how to cause more troubles.
塔塔商贸: Really don’t get it. It’d only make migrant workers suffer. Spend more energy on cracking down on corruption.
辛然呗: Banning ‘group-rent’ means… rent is going up again. Too many people and too few available apartments. What’d be a better time to increase the rent?
憋气小纪: So you want those who earn less than 1000 yuan a month to live on the street?
頋苝苝_kevin: This move may be to clear out people, like the emptying basement move a couple of years ago. Low-wage earners had no other way but to leave Beijing. On the other hand, some Beijingers should not blame these communities. They are not the ones who raised Beijing’s property price, the difficult situation for Beijing kids to find a job is not because they took them either (how many Beijingers WOULD take their jobs). Their children won’t be able to attend school in Beijing either.
Image courtesy of caixun.