How many ‘vacant homes’ does China have right now? A former statistics official has an eye-opening prediction

Will DanielSeptember 25, 2023 at 1:41 PM STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images

While the U.S. is facing a housing shortage and affordability crisis that has Gen Zers questioning whether they’ll ever be able to achieve the idealized, white-picket fence American Dream, China is in the middle of a very different kind of housing nightmare. Years of debt-fueled overbuilding have left the country with rows and rows of empty homes—as well as almost entirely vacant “ghost cities.” And now a former government official says the number of empty residences is so big that a country of 1.4 billion people is struggling to fill them.

“How many vacant homes are there now?” He Keng, the former deputy head of China’s statistics bureau, said at an event in the southern industrial city of Dongguan over the weekend, Reuters first reported. “Each expert gives a very different number, with the most extreme believing the current number of vacant homes are enough for 3 billion people.”

“That estimate might be a bit much, but 1.4 billion people probably can’t fill them,” he added, referencing the current estimate for China’s entire population.

While estimates for the number of vacant homes and apartments in China vary widely, experts believe a range between 65 million to 80 million units is reasonable. Keng seems to be indicating that’s just not the full iceberg.

It ‘isn’t just a cyclical correction’

China’s real estate market has helped boost the nation’s GDP for decades, becoming the most important sector of its economy. In fact, according to a Bank of America Research team led by China and Asia Economist Miao Ouyang, China’s outstanding mortgages alone amount to 31% of its GDP, and 59% of the nation’s household assets are held in real estate.

In recent years, though, China’s post-pandemic economic experience has differed from that of the U.S. and Europe, as it’s grappled

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