by Xinhua writer Lyu Qiuping
BEIJING, Sept. 6 (Xinhua) -- Li Zongmei is reluctant to call her shabby house "home."
The cracked walls let in the heat in summer and the cold in winter; the cement floor floods on rainy days; her grandson spends his life marooned on the couch - the only play space in the two-room house.
An outside kitchen is next to the house. They share a public toilet with hundreds of their neighbors.
"We cannot bear living here anymore, especially when I think of my six-year-old grandson. He does not deserve this," said 53-year-old Li.
Li\'s neighborhood used to be a dormitory area for Tiantun, a coal mine in Zaozhuang City in east China\'s Shandong Province. Her husband inherited the house, built in 1951, from his father, who was a miner.
Li\'s husband was also a miner, and when the Tiantun mine was declared bankrupt in 2004, he had to find a job miles away, which he kept until his retirement last year.
From 1949, the city was a major coal supplier for eastern provinces and Shanghai, supplying nearly half of the region\'s coal, until a decade ago when the mine was no longer economically viable.
In contrast to the huge contribution the city made to the prosperity of the region, the miners there have largely been neglected.
Li\'s son and daughter-in-law moved out after giving birth to her grandson. Li, her husband, their 22-year-old daughter and the grandson still live in the house, baking in summer and shivering through the winter.
Her daughter, Wang Dandan, never invites friends to visit because she feels too embarrassed.
"We hope we can move out of here as soon as possible, and live in a bright apartment," said Li, adding that a nice apartment would also help her daughter marry.
Li\'s family is just one of tens of millions who live in slums in China. People who were once miners, loggers or factory workers, live in houses built decades ago, when productivity outweighed workers\' welfare.
As house prices in cities have risen, the workers have been left behind and cannot afford new homes. Many have lost their jobs at depleted mines and vanished forests or in factories from the planned economy period, bankrupted by modern market zeal.
Compared with Li, 72-year-old Zhou Yupu, who also retired from a coal mine in Zaozhuang City, was much more fortunate. Benefitting from the government\'s urban renewal scheme, he traded his old shack for a 78-square-meter apartment.
Of the total apartment area, he was allocated 46 square meters free of charge, offset by his old house, and all he had to pay was 68,000 yuan (11,000 U.S. dollars). The amount was less than a quarter of the local market price.
"I still can\'t believe I can live in such a nice place for such a low price," he said.
The government started clearing the slums in 2008, and by 2012, over 20 million like Zhou had moved to new homes.
In Zaozhuang, listed as resource-exhausted in 2009, slum clearance came along just as the city authorities welcomed private real estate enterprises to construct new dwellings.
Li Houxing, head of the city\'s housing management bureau, said demolition of unsuitable housing was inevitable for a city to develop.
It not only improves living conditions, but helps the city plan systematically for infrastructure or commercial construction, he said.
The nationwide project has brought hope to 33-year-old Yang Lijun, one of the 120,000 residents in the squalid Beiliang community in the city of Baotou, in north China\'s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.
His family of five was allocated a 50-square-meter apartment, much better than their 18-square-meter house with beds in the kitchen.
"Moving to the new apartment, I never felt happier, not even when I got married," he said.
As of last year, 30,000 of the community, including Yang, had been moved to new apartments, with the other 90,000 waiting to be resettled.
On June 26, an executive meeting of the State Council presided over by Premier Li Keqiang decided to accelerate renewal of run-down neighborhoods, planning to move 10 million households over the next five years. Nearly 60 million residents, a number equal to the whole population of the United Kingdom, will have moved out of urban despair and into newly built apartments from 2008 to 2017.
In China where the per capita gross domestic product is only 6,000 U.S. dollars, 84th in the world, relocating so many residents is not easy. High costs, financing and compensation issues are among the most problematic.
Zaozhuang City has 175 rebuilding projects either completed or underway, with 104,000 households moving. The total cost, including government spending, bank loans, commercial investment from real estate companies and payments from individuals, had reached 50 billion yuan by June, roughly 80,000 U.S. dollars per household; a heavy burden for both government and construction companies.
Some residents have even refused to be relocated, demanding unreasonable compensation, which has seriously affected demolition and rebuilding progress.
Ning Fangwei, deputy general manager of a real estate company in Zaozhuang, said that over the past years, national controls over housing prices had restricted bank loans to real estate companies, making it hard for their company to stay afloat.
To help solve these difficulties, on June 26 the State Council decided to offer financial support, as well as preferential tax and land policies, for the rebuilding. It also decided to improve compensation.
Li Tiegang, deputy chief of the school of economics of Shandong University, said the rebuilding is an important part of current "urbanization with Chinese characteristics", which turns wishes of individuals into a national goal.
Li believes the project not only helps low-paid residents improve their housing quality, but also stimulates the local economy.
Urban renewal over the next five years will boost 40 sectors of industry with a total spending over 2.5 trillion yuan, securing 2 million jobs every year, according to the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development.
It also will help stabilize house prices, and ease the real estate market, he said. (Liu Baosen, Fang Dong, Shuang Rui and Zhang Lina also contributed to the story)