"It is of paramount importance that national and international efforts give priority to improving the rural habitat. In this context, efforts should be made towards the reduction of disparities between rural and urban areas, as needed between regions and within urban areas themselves, for a harmonious development of human settlements."
- Article 4 of the UN-Habitat 2006 Vancouver Declaration on Human Settlements
"Shelter is the most basic human need for survival, whereas access to adequate housing is the most fundamental human right for all... The question of human settlements is, in essence, a question of development. The principal root cause of deteriorating human settlements in developing countries is poverty and underdevelopment... Governments at all levels should adopt policies where appropriate to care for and support the poor, protect women and children and safeguard the interests of the most vulnerable social groups... one must pay nearly as much attention to improving settlements conditions in the countryside while working to improve settlements conditions in the cities. It is estimated that by 2015 people living in rural areas will still account for over 40% of the world's total."
- From a speech delivered by Mr. Hou Jie, Head of the Official Delegation of the People's Republic of China, at the Second UN Conference on Human Settlements, June 3, 1996
No one can be in doubt that over the last decade especially, China has made gigantic strides in the area of providing adequate housing for its citizens, including housing for low-income individuals. In many cases, the state financed and built the appropriate housing, then sold it at cost to low-income families. Generally speaking, private ownership of one's house - at all income levels - has become a priority in China. At the same time, China has invested massively in the public housing sector: apartment complexes shoot up so fast that over the space of a year, the skyline of an entire city's residential suburbs can become unrecognizable.
One of the parameters used to define the UN's concept of "adequate housing" is the amount of living space available to the individual. A common measure of this is a country's per capita sqm space. China's current overall per capita space is at 28 sqm, which represents a tripling over the past two decades (by comparison, the figures were 8.5 sqm in 1996 and 9.8 sqm in 1999 for urban areas, while it was 21.7 sqm in 1996 and 24.2 sqm in 1999 for rural areas).
At the same time, China has made a particularly focused effort to avoid the classical slumification of urban areas that has characterized other developing countries due to overcrowding, as more and more individuals migrate from the countryside to urban centers. The government of China has taken steps to improve the quality of housing in the countryside (sqm space has not traditionally been the main problem in the countryside; rather it has been the level - and degree of sophistication - of "amenities"), while at the same time promoting rural employment initiatives in an attempt to counteract the classical, developing-country mass exodus from the countryside to urban areas, which is ultimately the root cause of slumification.
In the future, the role of housing will play an increasingly important role in the Chinese economy - as indeed it does in any developed economy - as affordable housing becomes available to most Chinese households, either in the form of a private house or an apartment in a public or private housing project. This tendency will continue to feed the Chinese housing construction industry for years to come, as more and more individuals, thanks to the state's many creative, yet market-oriented initiatives (eg., the state has funded urban housing programs, some of which lend directly to prospective homeowners), will be able to afford their own homes.