Annette Kim, a professor at the University of Southern California who researches urbanization, spent last year in China's capital city studying the underground housing market.
"Part of why there's so much underground space is because it's the official building code to continue to build bomb shelters and basements," Kim says. "That's a lot of new, underground space that's increasing in supply all the time. They're everywhere."
She says apartments go one to three stories below ground. Residents have communal bathrooms and shared kitchens. The tiny, windowless rooms have just enough space to fit a bed.
Pedestrians pass a high-rise building being constructed in Beijing
"It's tight," Kim says. "But I also lived in Beijing for a year, and the city, in general, is tight."
With an average rent of $70 per month, she says, this is an affordable option for city-dwellers.
But living underground is illegal, Kim says, since housing laws changed in 2010.
And, in addition, there's a stigma to living in basements and bomb shelters, as Kim found when she interviewed residents above ground about their neighbors directly below.
It will happen and will probably be spread out over a period of time, but it is an interesting question none the less.
A problem in the US is that much of this kind of insurance is in the form of National Flood Insurance which is generally sold at well below market rates. That would mean taxpayers will be left holding the bag.
Today is the celebration of Santa Lucia. I grew up in an area with a large Scandinavian population and was exposed to it although, like most celebrations, I had no idea what was going on (I suspect the same is true for most who are part of the culture) - a young, usually blonde, girl wearing a crown of burning candles leads a procession of girls to a Swedish song with Neapolitan music honoring an old Neapolitan martyr. Somehow it has its roots in the Solstice, although it is celebrated about a week earlier. There are good treats - saffron buns and ginger cookies.
Waiters, karaoke hostesses, hairdressers, chefs, security guards, domestic workers and kitchen helpers, these basement dwellers are the backbone of Beijing’s service industry. But they have been unkindly dubbed the “rat tribe” for making a home in Beijing’s 6,000 basements and air raid shelters — about one-third of the city’s underground space.
They pay monthly rents of 300 to 700 yuan ($50 to $110) for partitioned rooms of seven to eight square meters, or sometimes, a closet-like space barely wider than a single bed. Some 50 to 100 rooms often share a single bathroom and several toilet cubicles. A chilly draft filters through the tunnels, which are also often dank and moldy in the summers.
But it may now be a matter of time before the basement dwellers face eviction. The government, which had leased the basements out for use since the 1990s, and even liberalized rules in 2004 to make them more accessible and hugely popular as homes to migrant workers, is clamping down.
In mid-December of 2010, the authorities issued new regulations contradicting earlier ones, effectively stopping basement leases from being renewed. Over the next three years, the authorities will gradually shutter the underground homes, which are now deemed “unsafe, dirty and chaotic,” a civil defense officer said.