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Broken dreams, shattered families in China’s unfinished apartments

by Mark Mendoza

Unfinished Apartments in China Leave Homeowners Desperate and Frustrated

The dream of owning a home is one that is shared by many people around the world. However, for some homeowners in Tongchuan, a city in northwestern China’s Shaanxi province, that dream has turned into a nightmare. Construction worker Shi Tieniu is one of the many homeowners who bought a presale apartment in Tongchuan’s Gaotie Wellness City complex, only to be left with an unfinished shell and no basic amenities.

Eight years after purchasing his apartment, Shi now finds himself climbing 20 flights of stairs every night to sleep in a threadbare room without water, heating, or electricity. With no money left and no other options, Shi’s hope is for the building to be finished quickly so that his elderly parents can have a comfortable place to spend their final years.

Shi’s situation is not unique. Dozens of other homeowners in the same complex are living in similar conditions, part of a nationwide campaign to pressure authorities to address the issue of “rotting” or unfinished homes. These unfinished apartments have become more common during a years-long property slump that has bankrupted many developers and left others massively indebted.

Despite the homeowners’ protests and pleas for help, there has been little sign of relief. Financial services firm UBS predicts that property sales and construction in China will only stabilize at 50-60% of the peak reached in 2020-21, partly due to population decline and slowing urbanization. This means that the prospects for these unfinished homes being completed anytime soon are slim.

The situation in Tongchuan’s Gaotie Wellness City complex is a clear example of the challenges faced by homeowners in China. Construction on the complex began in 2013, and despite repeated stalls, apartments continued to be sold until 2020. The names of the developer and project changed several times, adding to the confusion and frustration of the buyers.

Efforts to resolve the issue have fallen short. Buyers organized protests, and Tongchuan officials claimed to have established a committee to address the problem, but construction did not resume. The developer and the local government have yet to comment on the matter.

Inside the unfinished complex, the living conditions are dire. Residents navigate through an overgrown field and past abandoned construction machinery to enter the building. Once inside, they are greeted with dimly lit concrete walls, dusty floors, and a lack of basic amenities. Cooking is done in a communal kitchen with a single gas burner, and the toilet is housed in a makeshift metal shed.

The stories of the homeowners are heartbreaking. Many of them were retirees who had purchased apartments for their unmarried sons or laborers who could not afford to rent elsewhere. Their life savings were spent on these homes, and their hopes for a comfortable future have been shattered. One homeowner, Qi Xiaoxia, spoke of her disappointment and frustration, saying, “You cannot rely on these houses. Look at how they turned out now, and how it has destroyed my family.”

The unfinished apartments in Tongchuan’s Gaotie Wellness City complex are a microcosm of the larger property debt crisis that has gripped China. Smaller developers are facing liquidity issues, and even industry giants like Country Garden have narrowly avoided default. As a result, thousands of homeowners across the country are facing similar situations, with their dreams of owning a home turning into a never-ending nightmare.

The plight of these homeowners highlights the need for stronger regulations and oversight in the real estate sector in China. The government must take action to ensure that developers fulfill their promises and deliver on their projects. It is also crucial for authorities to provide assistance and support to homeowners who have been left in this dire situation, offering them some hope for a better future.

As the Chinese property market continues to face challenges, addressing the issue of unfinished homes should be a priority. Homeowners like Shi Tieniu and Qi Xiaoxia deserve justice and accountability from the developers and authorities involved, allowing them to finally have a place to call home.

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