cui bono? state power, urban village rights, and the vanishing of affordable housing

Recent events in Dachong draw our attention to how news coverage and debate about Shenzhen urban renovation projects focus on conflicts between the real estate developers and urban villages, effectively rendering invisible the growing lack of affordable housing for Shenzhen’s migrant workers.

Shenzhen’s mandatory urban renovation plans benefit developers and the government because villages must negotiate a transfer of land use rights. This means that even though compensation packages enrich villagers, long-term, successful project developers and the municipal government end up making more. In this sense, villager complaints that they have been underpaid have a certain legitimacy.  However, in return for their landuse rights, villagers receive compensation packages that include standardized reimbursement for extant housing, moving costs, and compensation for loss of livelihood. Villagers with multiple holdings and savvy negotiating skills become very rich; published reports indicate that as a result of development, Dachong villagers have joined the ranks of millionaires and several are now billionaires.

Huarun (China Resources)  has been negotiating with Dachong since March 2009. Indeed, banners calling for early decisions to sign transfer contracts were draped throughout Dachong and construction walls have been painted with slogans that sing the benefits of urban village  renovation. A sample — Scientific urban planning, collective transformation; Harmonious renovation, civilized relocation. New Dachong, New Life, New Development.

Nevertheless, as of April 15, there were still ten holdouts. The Dachong Stock Holding Corporation wrote an open letter to those holdouts, asking them to sign contracts immediately. A translation of the letter:

To the neighbors and family of Dachong Village who have not yet signed a renovation contract:

To date, of the 931 village households, 921 have already signed a contract. After signing, everyone received their compensation according to the terms of their agreement. Some bought or rented houses outside the village, some are residing in the village transitional housing area. This past year, they have experienced nostalgia and regrets, as well as some unfamiliar events. But overall, everyone is happily settled, anticipating the early construction of our new home, hoping to enter our beautiful, clean, comfortable, and convenient modern neighborhood as soon as possible, and realizing the beautiful hope of a richer and carefree life as soon as possible.

In the midst of this happiness, the entire village has worried and been concerned about the ten village neighbors who have yet to sigh a contract. We understand your desire to obtain more compensation or realize different hopes; we also sympathized with the difficulties and concerns that you have experienced. However, we neither approve nor support your methods because your unreasonable behavior had had no benefit for anyone.

In fact, everyone has clearly seen that generally speaking the compensation standards and methods for Dachong renovation are very good, when compared with anywhere else in the country, or old villages in Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Already 99% of villagers have signed contracts and so it is impossible to change compensation standards or methods for a few remaining individuals. To do so would be impossible to explain to everyone who has already signed a contract and might even lead to the situation getting out of control. Therefore, any efforts to extract more profit or protest renovation out of spite will not achieve your goals. Recently, the fact of the complete razing of Gangxia Village, Futian fully proves this point. If you knowingly continue in not accepting reality, then you will not receive the money that you should, you will not enjoy the life that you should enjoy, and some individuals will even have no home to return to, scatter relatives, the entire family not at peace, living in a constant state of anxiety. This is not a result that anyone wants to see.

Even more seriously, your unreasonable behavior has already delayed the progress of razing old homes and relocation, influencing the relocation of collective village property. Originally, it was estimated that all villagers and collective village property could be relocated within a year. Every year, that relocation is delayed, the collective looses approximately 290 million yuan, creating a great lost for village enterprises. In order to protect the interests of all villagers and the collective, we earnestly urge every family that has yet to sign to consider your self, the parents, the elderly and young of the village and sign quickly, put down your burden and live happily, add to the happiness of the entire village and not decrease it.

Of course, if you continue your unreasonable attitude, influencing the collective and individual village good, we regretfully must notify you, that the Village Stock Holding Corporation will follow the Central Governments “Land Appropriation Law” and petition the Nanshan District government to forcefully raze your homes. If we must really take this step, you face loss and risk because your property will not have legal protections and proof of ownership, unable to have strict legal protection, and therefore not eligible for the standard Dachong Renovation compensation.

Truthfully speaking, we don’t want to see your unreasonable behavior, not only placing yourself and your family in an untenable position, but also adversely affecting the good of the entire village. Accordingly, the entire village has used this “open letter” to remind you once again: think reasonably, approach the matter rationally, choose correctly for the benefit of everyone and for yourself.

The holdouts did not change their minds or behavior and thus on April 22, 2011, the Dachong Stock Holding Corporation petitioned the Nanshan District Government to  raze the houses of the 10 holdouts so that construction could proceed. The District approved the petition and the Dachong renovation will proceed by the end of June. Interestingly, this story was also picked up by the 人民日报, as well as other newspapers throughout the country. This is interesting because the national press is clearly presenting the holdouts as unreasonable exceptions to the cooperative village; holdouts elsewhere, beware.

More importantly, however, in all the fuss over who’s making and who’s loosing money the fact that these arguments act as if Dachong villagers represent rural people throughout China. This substitution of Dachong villagers for rural China effectively makes rural migrants to Shenzhen invisible; we no longer look at rural workers but rural property owners. Nevertheless, an estimated 60,000 migrant workers once lived in Dachong. I do not know where they have gone – possibly next door to Baishizhou. I do know, however, that this rhetorical sleight of hand – using Shenzhen villagers to stand for rural China – allows white collar Shenzhen to continue planning a brighter future despite the fact that with every razed village the City looses another swathe of housing migrants can afford.

Pictures of Dachong war of words, below:

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9 thoughts on “cui bono? state power, urban village rights, and the vanishing of affordable housing

  1. hmm interesting. I guess whoever we talked to was obviously trying to get sympathy from us? Does that mean if they settle now they’ll still get some kind of compensation, even though it is pretty much decided their houses will be razed by end of June?

  2. Presumably. If the letter is to be believed, they’ll get the standard package if they settle. If they don’t, then they’ll loose their right to compensation. The point of renovation projects, of course, is that the villagers must settle; it’s a question of for how much. What’s interesting in the Dachong decision is that now how long is also being renegotiated.

  3. Of course Americans reading about eminent domain & compensation will naturally think of

    “Kelo v. City of New London, 545 U.S. 469 (2005) was a case decided by the Supreme Court of the United States involving the use of eminent domain to transfer land from one private owner to another to further economic development. The case arose from the condemnation by New London, Connecticut, of privately owned real property so that it could be used as part of a comprehensive redevelopment plan which promised 3,169 new jobs and $1.2 million a year in tax revenues. The Court held in a 5–4 decision that the general benefits a community enjoyed from economic growth qualified such redevelopment plans as a permissible “public use” under the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment.”

    “The City eventually agreed to move Susette Kelo’s house to a new location and to pay substantial additional compensation to other homeowners. The redeveloper was unable to obtain financing and had to abandon the redevelopment project, leaving the land as an empty lot.”

    The decision was controversial, but what is interesting in comparison to your posting is the reaction of the U.S. national press which is not so dissimilar to that in China:

    “The New York Times editorial board agreed with the ruling, calling it “a welcome vindication of cities’ ability to act in the public interest.” The Washington Post’s editorial board also agreed with the ruling, writing, “… the court’s decision was correct… New London’s plan, whatever its flaws, is intended to help develop a city that has been in economic decline for many years.””

  4. In case you can’t access the Wikipedia link, here are a couple of news articles relating to the case:

    It’s hard not to come away with the conclusion that in the intersection of corporate interests, state governments and working class citizens, the corporate interests always win!

  5. hi perspective here, thank you for links. i’m thinking about the construction, cultivation, and milking of public sympathy. one of the more interesting aspects in these cases is the way in which compensation packages tend to obscure other rights because recipients seem ungrateful — hence, the appeal of the open letter rhetoric. sigh.

  6. Pingback: Da Chong Village « Mumbled Jumbles

  7. Pingback: a victory for the common people? | Shenzhen Noted

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