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Homes Ownership Database Stalled
Summary:Housing officials pledged to set up a home ownership database covering 500 cities by the end of June this year. Once again, progress has been slower than expected.

July 12, 2013
Translated by Luo Shuqi

Correction: The 7th paragraph of this article has been altered after it was first published. It now says that real estate experts think it is unlikely that the responsibility for overseeing the database will be transferred - initially we said that they thought it was possible.

As of July 10, ten days after the deadline for establishing a home ownership database covering 500 cities had passed, there have been no updates from the relevant department about what has happened to the ambitious plan.

As early as April 2010, the State Council had begun pushing the housing ministry to set up such a database.

On June 30, 2012, an official from the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development (MOHURD) said that the goal of setting up a database covering home ownership in 40 pilot cities had been achieved.

In February this year, MOHURD promised to expand the number of cities included in the system from 40 to 500 by the end of June. Although the deadline has now passed, no one from the ministry has come out to explain why they failed to meet the target.

Who is in Charge: Ministry of Land or Ministry of Land and Resources?

A source from MOHURD says that the real estate registration process, which is currently a task shared by MOHURD and Ministry of Land and Resources (MLR), will in the future be entirely taken over by MLR. If this is true, then the task of online personal housing database will now be MLR's responsibility.

However, another official told the reporter that whether to transfer the task of expanding the database to the MLR is still under discussion.

Real estate experts say that it is unlikely that the responsibility for overseeing the database will be transferred.

Wang Juelin (王珏林), the vice director of the Policy Research Center at MOHURD, argued that as the MLR is in charge of recording information on land resources while MOHURD is responsible for housing information; It would require unthinkably massive efforts for MLR to manage both land and housing information and supervise all the regional real estate transaction centers.

Two Major Obstacles to Overcome

The home ownership database is facing real difficulties.

For a starter, registration of housing ownership in China is managed at a local government level, with no cross-regional information sharing or communication. Therefore, it can be difficult to work out how many houses an individual actually owns, especially if he or she owns houses in more than one city.

An additional problem is that there are a significant number of properties with contested ownership or over which ownership is unclear. For example, the various kinds of social housing, such as affordable housing (经济适用房), fixed-priced housing (限价房), public rental housing (公租房) and low-rent apartments (廉租房).

An Anti-Corruption Weapon?

The establishment of a home ownership database has become a controversial a topic due to fact that the database could be used to fight corruption. Many believe that the system has the potential to expose officials who are suspected of owning many properties.

In January this year, the EO published an article saying that luxury properties were being dumped on the market in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou as panicked officials tried to cover their tracks ahead of the introduction of the new database.

However, Nie Meisheng (聂梅生), the director of China Real Estate Chamber of Commerce (CRECC), believes that labeling the system as an anti-corruption weapon actually exerts an adverse impact on the progress of the project, because, in an effort to protect officials, some local governments may try to delay or derail attempts at setting up the system.

Experts say that the main purpose for founding the database is to provide accurate information on which the government can make informed policy decisions in relation to the property market and not for anti-corruption activities.

In the past, Jiang Weixin, the Minister of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, has said that current property purchase restrictions, such as those that outlaw the purchase of second homes, would be cancelled after the introduction of the home owner information database.

Links and Sources
Time Weekly:500城住房信息联网难产 无关反腐?
Economic Observer Online:Officials Offload Property as Housing Register Nears
Economic Observer Online:Slow Progress on Homes Database


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