"Nail house" residents moving after six years: "we're tired"

The grotesque sight of a lonely house in the middle of a four-lane street in suburban Songjiang District will soon be a history.
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Standing alone in the middle of a four-lane street and surrounded by high-rises, family Xus’ humble and crumbling three-story house seems almost anachronistic.

But this grotesque sight, on Huting Road N. in Jiuting Town, suburban Songjiang District, will be gone after September 18.

Due to disagreements with the government on settlement deals, the Xus became the only household remaining there since 2011 while all their neighbors had been relocated to make way for a road infrastructure project, but they have finally agreed to move recently.

“We have no other choice because we’re tired,” said 70-year-old Zhang Xinguo, a member of the family.

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE
Tang Dafei / SHINE

To the Xus, the fate of being relocated from their “blood land”, as local farmers call their birth houses, was handed down in September 2003 when government decided to entirely change the look of the street which was small, dirty and flooded in every heavy rain.

The project was ready to be implemented by the end of 2008 but its completion was delayed several times till the end of March 2011 due to disputes in the relocation process. But the completion was not in the strict sense of the word because the 600-meter-long four-lane street was squeezed to two lanes in the middle where Xus’ house was.

“I understood the necessity of the project and wanted to give way to it from the very beginning, but we just hoped to get our fair share of it,” said Zhang, who worked as a mixer truck driver before he retired and was proud to have taken part in several large infrastructure projects of the city over the years.

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Zhang Xinguo was going over the documents he prepared for negotiations with the government over the years.

Zhang and his father-in-law, Xu Yongtao, had already agreed to move when Zhang’s son, Xu Jun, had another idea. The nine-member family was about to be compensated for relocation with a villa and money, but Xu Jun proposed that they should ask for apartments instead of a villa.

When the government agreed to give them four apartments, the family argued that they should be given six, accusing the government of not taking into account the fact that the family was split into two households or hukous in the same house in 2001.

Negotiations between the Xus and the government went on and off after 2011, and for a few years it seemed to the Xus that the government had neglected their requests, while life in the house became a pain.

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Zhang Xinguo's wife was still busy with housekeeping just days before the family is to move out.

Overlooking a large street which gets busier and busier every day, the house would sometimes shake lightly with a passing heavy truck, and the family also had to cope with traffic noises at night. Zhang said he had witnessed several traffic accidents down the window in the past few years which were caused by drivers not being careful enough when driving on the twisted street.

Three years ago, Zhang lost his mother-in-law whose deteriorating health he believes was related to their living environment.

But what troubled the family the most were rumors on the internet which said they were seeking tens or hundreds of millions yuan of compensation from the government, which the family denied.

“We were simply given a bad name out there, and this somehow turned the government further away from us,” Zhang said.

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Xu Yongtao, owner of the property, was counting his last days in their old family house.

A renewed effort from the government to relocate the Xus started from last year, and intensive negotiations finally brought the Xus to terms.

Zhang said they were “not satisfied” with the final deal which gets the family four apartments and 2.3 million yuan (US$355,000) in cash, but they were “moved” by the positive attitude of the government to solve the problem.

Since the new apartments are not yet available, the government has also promised to give the family 64,000 yuan every year for them to rent apartments.

Now the Xus have almost packed up all the stuff, ready to move out of the house in a few days’ time, and the house is scheduled to be demolished on the early morning of September 18.

“I’m getting old, and my father-in-law is already 87 years old,” Zhang said. “We simply can’t take more of this.”


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