Rattled by the potential economic fallout from millions of unsold homes, China wants migrant workers to buy properties in smaller cities and ease the burden on a real estate sector that makes up about 15 per cent of the country's economic growth.
The move underscores Beijing’s concerns over a stock of some 1 billion square metres of vacant housing – around 13 million homes or enough to house the population of Australia – and the broader knock-on effect of any defaults by struggling property developers as the world’s second-largest economy grows at its slowest pace in a quarter of a century.
While encouraging migrants to buy homes in lower-tier cities seems like a remedy to boost demand, making money available to them will prove tougher.
Many of China’s more than 270 million migrants earn below 3,000 yuan ($A633) a month, less than half the cost per square metre needed for a home in a lower-tier city such as Changzhou, in eastern Jiangsu province.
With low incomes and few assets, migrant labourers are not obviously attractive loan candidates, and the authorities will need to find property developers willing to sell homes at a discount and local governments ready to subsidise purchases.
“Conditions are not mature for migrant workers to buy unsold homes. You can’t count on a certificate for housing ownership to resolve everything,” said Jason Hu, head of research at Chinese property consultant Holdways in Beijing.
“Everyone wants to settle in the city, but where’s the money?” said Hu, adding other issues need to be resolved such as giving migrant workers equal access to social security and public services.
Senior leaders have said China will step up efforts to tackle property inventories this year, including helping migrant workers buy or rent homes in cities, and encouraging developers to cut prices.
Authorities aim to get 100 million migrants to settle in cities by 2020, and officials in small-and medium-sized cities have pledged to give permanent resident status, or hukou, to more rural people, although access to welfare remains a concern.
Another potential obstacle is that more than 70 per cent of migrant workers already living in cities prefer to rent, according to National Health and Family Planning Commission data.