Back to the Future with 'Public Housing'

It is equally significant, however, that these problems have led the Government since 2007 to usher in a new phase of housing policy, with a much higher level of commitment to ‘public’/subsidised housing, which had previously fallen from 25 % of output in1998 to 7 % in 2008 (Wang et al. 2013, Table 1). In a series of measures culminating in an announcement in 2011 by the Premier that 36 million ‘public’ housing units would be built by 2015, taking the ‘public’ share of urban housing stock to 20 %. The leading role in this policy is taken by local government, as part of the wider ‘fiscal federalism’ approach of China to urban and social policy. Local authorities of course may be able to recycle some of their profits from commercial housing land disposals to this end, so providing a loose parallel with the ‘section 106’ planning policies used in the UK. Whether or not this ambitious target is achieved, there has certainly been an upsurge in provision of a range of (at least five) types of ‘public housing’. It should be noted that the majority of these take the form of LCHO schemes (particularly the so- called ‘Economic and Comfortable Housing’) rather than traditional public renting, and that the local authorities implementing the policy seem to prefer that emphasis, perhaps because it supports their economic goals by attracting and retaining ‘key workers’.

In discussing the theoretical implications of the story of urban China for social policy regimes, the recent literature suggests that China does not fit the standard typologies very well, being a hybrid case. What started as a typical East Asian ‘productivist’ approach to welfare (Holliday 2000) seems to be evolving into a ‘developmental state’ model (Stephens 2010; Chen et al. 2014), whereby the achievement of key social goals becomes part of the objective, rather than narrowly defined GDP growth. At the same time, the devolved fiscal system gives local authorities an incentive to try to keep down their future welfare bills, and this is argued to encourage them to promote home ownership (Doling and Ronald 2010).

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