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Cindy (Yuanxin) Zhu '11 Investigating Housing in China

By David Foster '10
Posted July 2, 2008
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For those who are troubled by the slump in the housing market, traveling to China is like stepping into a parallel universe: demand is up and prices are soaring, and in response builders are building. These conditions result from the new way in which the nation determines who gets what housing: while the Chinese government had
allocated shelter since the rise of the Communist Party during the late 1940s, the Party has recently allowed for market forces to take hold instead. Working on a Levitt Research Fellowship under the supervision of Economics Professor Stephen Wu, Cindy (Yuanxin) Zhu '11 is going on-site in China to collect real estate transaction data and talk to Chinese citizens who are affected by the transition in order to dissect the Chinese housing market's explosion.

Although new construction and rising prices sound refreshingly different from the American housing market's falling prices and subprime crisis, the picture is not necessarily rosier for many impoverished citizens. Skyrocketing home values have made adequate shelter unaffordable for China's poorest citizens, who must therefore live in dangerous inner-city shacks. According to Zhu, "The new housing market for foreigners and the country's nouveau riche are saturated with luxurious apartments, while the urban masses at the bottom of the work hierarchy and those within a less favorable set of hierarchical relationships are still cramped in living spaces."

Zhu explains that "although housing prices are comparable to those of many other high-income countries, per capita incomes in China remain relatively low by international standards." She notes that in response, the Chinese government is providing more low-income housing while imposing new taxes and restrictions to "cool" the hot housing market. To get a clearer picture of these measures and the inequity that characterizes Chinese housing, Zhu's trip to China incorporates
interviews with some of the poorest (and richest) Chinese citizens. Detailing her research approach, she notes that she "will conduct medium-scale survey among a wide range of people with different income levels from the very rich ones to those newly migrants struggling to find affordable housing through my personal and family networks."

Indeed, these "personal and family networks" make her an ideal candidate to study this question. As a native speaker of Mandarin, she will have no trouble interacting with Chinese citizens who have been affected by the government's new housing policies and the shifting market. Yet most importantly, Zhu has unique access to a
dataset compiled by Metrobase Investment Management, a Hong Kong-based
real estate firm where she interned during the first half of 2007. By analyzing price data, Zhu hopes to examine the effectiveness of the Chinese government's new policies. 


-- by David Foster '10

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