It’s true: the rent is too damn high

Source:Global Times Published: 2016-5-9 19:28:01

Skyrocketing rent is a nightmare haunting millions of young blue-and-white collar workers in Beijing. The capital had the least affordable rent out of any of the 15 major cities studied recently by the UK-based Global Cities Business Alliance.

As an editor of yours wrote in an article last week, although he didn't feel crippled by rent as a foreigner with an upper-middle-class income, the average rent, at 120 percent of net income, is unaffordable for an ordinary person on a regular salary.

As a migrant working in Beijing with an average income, I feel deprived of a decent life "thanks to" the surging rent. The company I work for is situated within the 3rd Ring Road, where the rent for a small one-bedroom apartment is double my salary.

To get by, I share a shabby four-room apartment with other tenants in the far reaches of the city's suburbs. This means I have to spend hours on crowded and slow buses even though I hate commuting. With the room costing more than half of my income, I'm reluctant to "waste" my money on fitness clubs, books, art studios, concerts and other stuff I'm interested in. Compared with my friends who enjoy a decent life in my hometown, I, among other ordinary Beijingers, feel squeezed by the skyrocketing cost of rent.

This is not good news for the city's development. The surging rent encourages rent-seeking. Increasing local Beijingers are now starting to take advantage of their properties to produce unearned income. This not only makes them lazy, but also intensifies the existing inequities. Newcomers' hard-earned money is, at last, passed through to local landlords.

This is unfair. If this trend continues, Beijing will see widening gaps between locals and migrants. As a result, ordinary workers will be increasingly discouraged from migrating to major cities in China, where young people are the bedrock of the consumer sector for many industries. How can Beijing develop properly without immigrants?

In addition, happiness is important. A city cannot be classified as developed if its citizens, spinning around like a gyro for rent, dare not waste money on spiritual consumptions. Compared with smaller cities where ordinary people enjoy a much more relaxed life, Beijing, even though it is economically developed, is a dull and stressful city for many low-income workers who have little money left for entertainment. This is partly why many blue-collar workers, while working in Beijing, still choose to settle down in their own hometowns. Your author rightly argued that "even financial and political hubs can't succeed without waiters, street sweepers, toilet cleaners, and bricklayers," Beijing, to become a global city, should make those low-income workers feel welcomed.

This problem needs to be tackled urgently. The government should provide more affordable housing for low-income workers. Some worry that this may harm the vested interests of local Beijingers.

However, equality is more important. It is rational and fair if incomes are based more on hard work than the existing wealth.

Beijing's own elites should bear in mind that it is the migrants that have contributed most to the city's development, and thus take a more understanding attitude if their vested interests are affected. A global city should strive to narrow down gaps between locals and newcomers.

Beijing is right to spread its high-end industries and services out to create satellite areas. This helps to curb the surging property prices in the downtown area.

However, the relocation of key services has given rise to new problems: real estate speculators are seizing the opportunity to fry the property market in satellite areas. The rent in some rural places in Beijing, for instance, Tongzhou and Wangjing, is now as high as that in the center of the city.

Authorities need to take measures to tackle and prevent this speculative behavior, for instance, introducing stricter quota policies in satellite areas.

Summer, an interior designer based in Beijing

Posted in: Letters

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