Slum residents hold out hope for change

Slum residents hold out hope for change
Mr Sun Jiake lives with his wife in a single-storey, approximately 250 sq ft brick unit.

BEIJING - In the heart of Beijing's modern central business district, a tiny shanty town bustles, seemingly frozen in time, sticking out like a sore thumb amid - or some say refreshing respite from - the uniformly glass-clad skyscrapers towering over it.

Mr Sun Jiake, 60, is one of the residents in this shanty town.

There are hundreds of such pockets of land in Beijing, passed over for redevelopment in the capital's march towards growth and modernisation.

Many of Beijing's poor live in these squalid areas. Mr Sun's home in Huashiying village is a single-storey, approximately 250 sq ft brick unit that he and his wife Guan Shu Ming, 58, have lived in for over 30 years.

Its entrance is down a lane lined with low-slung electrical wires. The unit is partitioned into three areas: a tiny kitchen in the front, followed by two cluttered bedrooms. They share a public bathroom with other residents.

Across China, slums like these, with poorly built structures, pockmark its huge cities.

Experts say they are not only an eyesore, but also pose a problem, with the houses at risk of fire or collapse.

Within Beijing's fourth ring road, for instance, there are about 527 such slums with 23,000 households of 700,000 people, said a report by news portal in July.

But while the location of Mr Sun's home within the third ring road to the city's east and close to Dongdaqiao subway station is a definite plus, the retired couple, who have Beijing urban hukou, or household registration, are eager for it to be demolished.

In return, they hope to be compensated in cash or be provided a flat in one of the government's affordable housing projects.

"The government has been raising our hopes and saying for years they'll demolish the area but they haven't taken any action. We continue to live here as we can't afford a new home with current home prices," said Ms Guan, who estimates that there are 200 to 300 families living in the village.

But as the neighbourhood prospers, the value of the land the shanty town sits on has increased dramatically, making any urban renewal difficult due to the huge corresponding compensation that would have to be paid out.

Residents The Straits Times spoke to say while they are happy with the convenience of life in the area with its small shops selling fresh produce and other daily items, living conditions can be challenging, particularly during winter.

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