China orders more measures to cool housing costs, construct more low-income homes

China's government ordered local officials Wednesday to do more to cool surging housing costs after a scandal over a bank employee who bought 45 properties highlighted the potential for evasion of ownership limits.

A Cabinet statement also directed local leaders to build more low-cost housing.

Soaring Chinese housing prices have made fortunes for some people but pushed home ownership out of reach of millions of families, fueling political tensions.

The government pledge comes as a new generation of Communist Party leaders who took power in November are promising more action to narrow the wealth gap between an elite who have benefited from economic reform and China's poor majority.

The government has increased minimum required downpayments, imposed limits in some cities on how many properties one buyer can own and imposed other curbs. Price rises have moderated but stories in the Chinese press about officials and businesspeople suspected of evading ownership limits have fueled public frustration.

In the most high-profile case, a bank officer in the northern province of Shaanxi is accused of amassing 45 properties worth at least $160 million with the help of phony identity cards and corrupt police.

In other cases, a city official in southern China and his family were found to have 21 properties. In the northeastern province of Heilongjiang, a political commissar of an anti-corruption bureau and his ex-wife had 19. In the central province of Henan, a housing director and his children bought 25 properties.

Wednesday's Cabinet statement said local leaders were ordered to create mechanisms to monitor housing prices.

"If prices rise too fast, governments are required to take measures quickly to limit purchases," it said.

The statement gave few details but also said local officials were to push ahead with experimental changes in taxes on real estate sales.

It told local governments to speed up work on meeting Communist Party pledges to complete 4.7 million low-cost homes this year and start construction of 6.3 million more homes.

Construction of low-cost housing is part of a series of government initiatives to spread China's prosperity more widely.

Earlier this month, the government issued a sweeping pledge to narrow China's wealth gap with measures including requiring cash-rich state companies to turn over more profits to pay for social programs.

It promised more spending on health, education and job training but gave few details and no sign of how Beijing will enforce changes that might hurt state industry and other politically influential factions.


Chinese Cabinet (in Chinese):