Policy to provide rent free villas faces criticism in China

Under the policy, experts, artists and executives from leading State-owned and private companies can rent villas, each measuring about 300 square meters and offering scenic views, in the city's Xixi National Wetland Park and Baimahu Ecological Creation City.

Their rents will be waived for the first five years, and the leasing periods range from 10 to 20 years.

Such celebrities as TV hostess Yang Lan, writer Yu Hua, Taiwan drama director Stan Lai and cartoonist Zhu Deyong were among the Xixi villa tenants, a media report said.

The city also subsidises housing for professionals who "have made prominent contributions to the city's development" and turned out to be corporate leaders, by selling them houses at half the market price.

What most angered the public is the claim that the land is earmarked for the local government's affordable housing program intended to benefit low-income residents, official China Daily reported.

Xixi wetland's managing committee said the report was inaccurate.

"The 59 houses in the park are State-owned assets, rather than indemnificatory houses or houses for low and medium-income earners," the committee said in a written response yesterday.

Yang Lan, co-owner of Sun Television Cybernetworks, also denied on her blog that she had ever rented a villa for residence on the wetland.

She instead claimed she had signed a contract with the Hangzhou government solely on behalf of her creative studio, a Sun Television Cybernetworks unit, which will be based in the city to boost its creative industry.

The Hangzhou city government refused to comment yesterday.

The plan has created a public sensation since media exposed it, generating heated discussion among locals and Web users.

"It is a universal truth that the government subsidised housing system is designed to offer low-rent houses to low-income families," Knutsen Yishaoyehaoshuai posted on sina.com.cn.

"But what is the purpose of subsidised housing if villas are given to the rich?"

About 85 per cent of Chinese households who plan to buy new apartments cannot afford one, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said in its annual Blue Book of China's Economy.

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