As China’s Economy Stumbles, Homeowners Boycott Mortgage Payments

For decades, buying property was considered a safe investment in China. Now, instead of building a foundation of wealth for the country’s middle class, real estate has become a source of discontent and anger. From a report: In more than 100 cities across China, hundreds of thousands of Chinese homeowners are banding together and refusing to repay loans on unfinished properties, one of the most widespread acts of public defiance in a country where even minor protests are quelled. The boycotts are part of the fallout from a worsening Chinese economy, slowed by Covid lockdowns, travel restrictions and wavering confidence in the government. The country’s economy is on a path for its slowest growth in decades. Its factories are selling less to the world, and its consumers are spending less at home. On Monday, the government said youth unemployment had reached a record high.

Compounding these financial setbacks are the troubles of a particularly vulnerable sector: real estate. “Life is extremely difficult, and we can no longer afford the monthly mortgage,” homeowners in China’s central Hunan Province wrote in a letter to local officials in July. “We have to take risks out of desperation and follow the path of a mortgage strike.” The mortgage rebellions have roiled a property market facing the fallout from a decades-long housing bubble. It has also created unwanted complication for President Xi Jinping, who is expected to coast to a third term as party leader later this year on a message of social stability and continued prosperity in China.

So far, the government has scrambled to limit the attention garnered by the boycotts. After an initial flurry of mortgage strike notices went viral on social media, the government’s internet censors kicked into action. But the influence of the strikes has already begun to spread. The number of properties where collectives of homeowners have started or threatened to boycott has reached 326 nationwide, according to a crowdsourced list titled “WeNeedHome” on GitHub, an online repository. ANZ Research estimates that the boycotts could affect about $222 billion of home loans sitting on bank balance sheets, or roughly 4 percent of outstanding mortgages.

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