A ROOM WITH A VIEW: Jin Guixiang (left) and her granddaughter look at the new buildings outside the window of their new apartment in Fushun (ZHANG BO)
A PITIFUL LIFE: People lead their life at a shantytown in Dongzhou District in Fushun, Liaoning Province, on February 9, 2005 (ZHANG BO)
The Fushun Municipal Government began a pilot project to transform the shantytowns as early as 1987. But it could not afford to pay for it alone. In 2003, it tried to induce real estate developers to overcome the problem. But the shanty dwellers protested vehemently against the move because they said they wouldn't be able to pay for a new house elsewhere with the compensation paid to them for their relocation.
"The local government alone could not solve the problem. The provincial and central governments had to give a helping hand," said Liu Guoqiang, Director of the Fushun Information Office.
In fact, shantytown renovations in the province were progressing slowly until 2005. Large amounts of financing subsidized by the Central Government were invested into the reorganization of industries in an effort to boost the northeast China's heavy industrial base. Real estate developers were disinclined to invest considering the bad locations of shantytowns, which were either far from the city center, or very near collieries, fearing the ground may sink into the excavated earth in the future.
Among Liaoning's nearly 2 million shantytown residents, mostly coalminers and their families, seven out of 10 relied on government relief. Senior citizens, the impoverished and unemployed made up a majority of shantytown residents. They had no money to buy new homes or to move from the shanties, thus the government and social welfare were a last resort for them.
In December 2004, former Liaoning Party Secretary Li Keqiang visited a shantytown housing thousands of families in Fushun. Shocked by the miserable living conditions, Li promised to fulfill their long-awaited hopes. "We have resolved to settle your problems. It won't be too long," he told a resident.
Starting in March 2005, the large-scale shantytown renovation project swept through 11 cities, mostly natural resource-exhausted cities in Liaoning. In June 2005, the Modi shantytown in Fushun also started its transformation. By the end of that year, 13 six-story residential buildings had come up.
Most importantly, the residents paid small amounts to get their new houses. According to the house distribution methods, each family can acquire the same area as the room they moved out of for free, and the extra area of a bigger flat was sold for 600-800 yuan ($95-127) per square meter, a third or half the market price. "On average, a family had to pay just 10,000 yuan ($1,587) for a new house," said Wang Yajun, chief of Modi Community neighborhood committee.
Residents saw their dreams come true when they moved from the shantytowns into the new apartments, which are equipped with all the necessary residential facilities and employed medical staff, security guards and property managers working in the community. Heating, gas and electricity fees were slashed to make them more affordable.
Along with the housing project, high unemployment and other social problems stemming from the existence of shantytowns were addressed within a working coalition of different governmental sectors.
According to Liaoning Housing and Urban-Rural Construction Department, in the six years from 2005 to 2011, more than 100,000 employment opportunities were provided to former shantytown residents, solving the employment problems for more than 23,000 families. Eighty percent of those laid-off workers found jobs again.
Within the six years, average family revenue has increased 10,207 yuan ($1,620) annually, up 49 percent, according to the department.
"The shantytown renovation project is not only about living but also about social justice and stability," said Guo Enzhang, a professor at the China Urban Planning Society.
According to an assessment report released by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) in June, more than 90 percent of former shantytown residents in Liaoning think their social status has been greatly improved and 85.7 percent believe social security has been obviously improved.
An international model
Wang Weiguang, Executive Vice President of the CASS, said that the renovation of shantytowns in Liaoning Province created a world wonder.