Investigation of social housing policy in Western China : a case study of Yinchuan City
China, as one of the fastest developing countries in the world, has experienced particularly swift economic growth since 1978. While absolute poverty in urban China has decreased during this time, the growing proportion of the relatively poor among the urban population, especially the increasing numbers of poor rural migrants, has presented an immense challenge for housing authorities in China’s cites. At the same time, rising high housing prices have caused an affordability problem for middle- to low-income households. In response to these issues, successive waves of social housing development have taken place across China, with ‘affordable’, ‘low-rent’, ‘price-limited’ and ‘public rental’ housing having been introduced successively since 1998 to support a range of middle- to low-income residents facing housing challenges. While previous studies have examined social housing policy in China, particularly in the major cities, thus far there has been little research focused on the implementation and impact of these programmes in the ‘economically-lagging region’ of western China, nor have many of these studies considered this from the residents' perspectives. This research examines the evolution, purpose, significance and implementation challenges of social housing policy in western China, as well as exploring the extent to which this housing satisfies the needs and preferences of its residents. Specifically, it includes an in-depth case study of Yinchuan city in western China based upon an analysis of government plans and statistics, as well as interviews with officials and residents. The study employs an analytical framework based on the social housing functions identified in western societies (supply function, wider affordability function, safety net function, and ambulance service function), and the social housing models found in East Asian countries (productivist model and welfarist model). It finds that social housing in Yinchuan fulfills a range of these functions by using different types of housing to meet various residents’ housing needs. Affordable housing is supplied to a wide range of middle-income households, similar to the wider affordability function in western countries, while low-rent housing plays an ambulance service role to secure the neediest households. However, the functions of social housing have also changed over time. The implementation of price-limited housing and public rental housing has resulted in a broader range of people being covered by social housing, meaning that these policies start to perform the safety net function in western China. Thus, the overall social housing model has been shifting from a productivist to welfarist model, with function changes in reaction to both housing development and broader social and economic change in China. The Yinchuan case study illustrates how social housing policy might work in Chinese cities of a comparable size with similar geographical locations, economic situations, and demographics, as well as revealing some more general points about social housing development across China. Further studies are needed in other western cities in China, and in other under-researched areas of this vast country, to determine just how typical Yinchuan’s situation is compared with social housing across the rest of China.