BEIJING - The gleaming office towers and soaring residential buildings that frame the skyline of the sprawling Chinese capital are massive icons of China's economic miracle over the past three decades.
But lurking in their shadows are the less well known illegal bomb-shelter homes, tiny basement dorms and left-behind urban villages that form slum-like communities housing a good proportion of Beijing's population of 21 million.
Providing decent and affordable housing is a growing challenge that Beijing, like many other Chinese mega cities such as Shanghai and Shenzhen, faces as millions of rural residents answer the siren call of urbanisation. Some 28 per cent of China's urban population lived in slums in 2010, according to a United Nations report.
In response to the massive influx of migrants to urban centres, the central government committed in 2011 to build 36 million public housing units nationwide in a five-year period till 2015.
More recently, in October, President Xi Jinping also pledged to increase the supply of land for homes and spend more on affordable housing projects, which he said the government will be responsible for, signalling that the issue had finally caught the eye of the highest levels of power and rightfully so.
With a staggering 850 million expected to be urban dwellers by 2020 from 700 million now, providing housing - particularly affordable homes - has taken on increased urgency. Associate Professor Huang Youqin at the department of geography and planning at the University of Albany in New York told The Straits Times the issue is important both socially and politically.
"When you have a large number of people who don't have proper shelter, it's going to be a problem," she added.
"There is a lot of anger in society and I would think it's within the top five issues Beijing has to tackle."
But putting a roof over the heads of 1.3 billion people is a tall order and one the government has muddled its way through so far.
China's affordable housing scheme, introduced in 1999, was designed to provide cheaper housing for wage-earning workers and low-rent homes for poor residents.
But many gripe bitterly about the corruption and inefficiencies rife in the system.
Ms Chen Xiwen, lead policy analyst at consultancy China Policy, told The Straits Times the supply of government-subsidised housing has remained inadequate even as home prices have soared out of reach for many common folk, especially in the first-tier cities.