Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Nail Houses

When I was in first grade, one of my classmates, Mike, was changing schools. He had to move due to eminent domain laws. My parents explained to me that Mike's house was on land other people needed. They were going to use that land for constructing several commercial buildings. His family was given money so that they could move somewhere else since their house would soon be demolished. I thought the whole situation sounded terribly unfair. I couldn't imagine having to move from my own home and start a new school because someone else decided they wanted to knock our house down and build something else in its place.

After Mike, I hadn't come across anyone affected by eminent domain. . . and then I came to China. Anyone who has been here knows that you can't go far without stumbling on something being knocked down or something being built up. This out-with-the-old-and-in-with-the-new mentality has caused a new phenomenon—nail houses. If you don't know what nail houses (钉子户dīngzi hù) are, you should check out this article. The pictures will give you an idea! Nail houses are particularly common in China, though they do occur in other countries, even the US, as shown in this article.

Aunt's house, 2007

In China, homeowners may refuse to move despite their property being snatched up by the government or private developers. Some stay because they simply don't want to leave. Most, however, hold out on selling their homes in hopes of scoring a better deal as developers get more desperate for the property their home is on. Sometimes this plan backfires, as has happened to owners in a dilapidated apartment complex near my home. Most of the apartments are empty, but others still have occupants, those nails who initially refused to move, but are now stuck in the crumbling abode since money for the developing project ran out.

door frame and rubble
For others, things work out quite well, as was the case for Ming's relatives. Ming's uncle (his mom's younger brother) and aunt (mom's younger sister) both had houses on property that was being developed. Their homes were simple, one story houses with small courtyards—the kind of homes you typically encounter in the Chinese countryside. Quite frankly, the living conditions were poor, without indoor plumping or adequate heat. They were conveniently located near the city center by Chengde's Summer Mountain Resort. In 2007, before Ming and I went to the US, we visited his aunt's house and found that everything (with the exception of his uncle's home and the public toilet) was rubble. When we returned the next year, they still remained. I don't think they moved until the end of 2008, more than a year after all their neighbors had moved. They made out quite well, scoring two brand new apartments per family, plus cash. In the span of a year they went from dirt poor to having brand new flat screen TVs and big, plush coaches. To this day, I'm not sure how to feel about it—happy that they were lifted out of poverty or, dare I admit, jealous that they got all new stuff.

Have you heard stories or personally know anyone affected by new development? What do you think is the most fair way for the government and developers to deal with this?

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