China Says It Will Start Buying Apartments as Housing Slump Worsens

Chinese officials signaled their growing alarm over the country’s worsening real estate market on Friday, unveiling a plan to step in to buy up some of the vast housing stock and announcing even looser rules for mortgages.

The flurry of activity came just hours after new economic data revealed that Chinese authorities are staring at a hard truth: No one wants to buy houses right now.

Policymakers have tried dozens of measures to entice home buyers and reverse a steep decline in the housing market that has shown few signs of recovering soon.

On Friday China’s vice premier, He Lifeng, indicated a shift in the government’s approach to dealing with a housing crisis that has prompted households to cut spending. Mr. He told policymakers that local governments could begin to buy homes to start dealing with the huge numbers of empty apartments.

The government-purchased homes would then be used by authorities to provide affordable housing. Mr. He did not provide any details on when such a program would begin or how it would be funded.

The approach is similar to the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, that the United States government established in 2008 to buy troubled assets after the collapse of the American housing market, said Larry Hu, chief China economist for Macquarie Group, an Australian financial firm.

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