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China's Whack-a-Mole Housing Boom

In an effort to control runaway home prices in some cities, China is pushing property speculators toward others. For residents in these working-class regions, the changes are “impossible to stomach.”
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Madison McVeigh/CityLab

If you ask the residents of Hengshui, China, what their city is known for, they’ll likely cite two things: a throat-singeing grain alcohol and a public high school whose military-style education yields some of the best scores on the national college entrance exam each year. But in first few months of 2017, Hengshui garnered an additional claim to fame: This small city in China’s dry northern plain became one of the country’s hottest housing markets.

The property boom began around the arrival of Chinese Lunar New Year, a time for sweeping out the old and welcoming in the new. And while property speculators were a new sight in this working-class city, reactions were anything but welcoming. The frenzy of home buying sent prices soaring out of reach for local residents. Even the large population of people who own multiple homes couldn’t find comfort in what, to American eyes, might look like a sudden windfall.