Beijing Underground

The Chinese real estate bubble has affected nearly everyone. One little known consequence has been people living underground. Many of the people that one has to interact with on a daily basis such as waiters, hairdressers, cooks, cleaners, and supermarket employees live underground. With salaries of $150-$300 per month, they cannot afford to rent a house in a place like Beijing and can only dream of buying.

There is another housing option. Under the towers of each apartment building are usually two levels of parking. Surrounding the parking are rooms that appear to be meant for storage. These windowless, vent-less cells are where many people live. These can be dormitories filled with bunk beds and only a single toilet down the hall. There is no heating in the winter. People hang their clothes from the pipes in the dark hallways. These residents can be seen coming and going from the entrances and exits meant for cars.

The sad thing is many of the apartments above their heads sit empty. In this area of Beijing, I estimate there is a 70% occupancy rate just by looking through the windows of a building.  The real estate bubble is driven by speculation. The apartments sit empty because they are seen as only an investment to sell later. They are normally bare concrete walls, no plumbing or electrical. So they can be sold as new.

Many have profited from the real estate bubble. There is no property tax in China. I know some families have been able to provide a good college education to their child because they sold a house at the right time. But this really shows the divide between rich and poor in China.

Of course, not everyone has to live underground. Construction workers get temporary housing. It is also possible to live in a normal apartment. I was told one story of a two-bedroom apartment in a central location with 30 people living inside. It costs about $3/day if you pay by the day to live in such a place.