SHANGHAI — Before Zhuang moved into his new apartment just south of Hongqiao Airport aboutfour years ago, his real estate agent warned him to be careful driving in the area: There was a house blocking half of North Huting Road, bringing an abrupt end to two of its four lanes.
“Shanghai’s most badass ‘nail house’ — it’s famous,” Zhuang told Sixth Tone, using a popular term for a home whose occupants refuse to leave once it has been earmarked for a redevelopment project. “It’s like a landmark to me.”
The old, three-story building has taken on an air of mystique to people in the area, who shared rumors with Sixth Tone that it is owned by a prominent politician, or that the homeowners were demanding unreasonable piles of money in compensation.
But more than 10 years since redevelopment plans were first announced, the family of seven that lives in the house has finally come to an agreement with the government, and the building will soon be demolished, according to a report Tuesday by Shanghai-based Xinmin Evening News.
When Sixth Tone visited the nail house on Wednesday afternoon, the 65-year-old owner of the house was watching TV in her room. The woman wouldn’t say why, after all these years, the family had finally agreed to move. “If we could have come to an agreement with the government, we would have moved; if not, why would we leave the house that we’ve lived in for decades?” the woman asked rhetorically.
Since 2015, there were eight face-to-face meetings and more than 10 phone calls between the residents and authorities, Xinmin reported. Earlier this month, government officials invited four family members to talk, and “after some deputes,” the family agreed to sign the demolition document.
The family will receive three apartments in compensation, the woman said, adding that she does not know their size. According to Xinmin, the government never changed its offer to the family.
The woman refused to reveal her name because she doesn’t want the attention it would bring. “There have been too many rumors over the past years, saying that we want a higher price and criticizing us for being selfish people,” she explained. “Too many people said that we received billions of yuan. If we really had that, we would have moved a long time ago.”
Living in the center of the road has not been easy. The round-the-clock traffic is a constant source of noise and vibration, especially when cars cross a nearby bridge. Venturing outside is treacherous: The front door is one meter from the road.
The woman seemed resigned with her family’s decision to move out. “Let the past be the past,” she said.
Construction projects requiring people to vacate their properties frequently lead to conflict, and can be tragic for those forced to give up their ancestral lands. But in many urban areas, such plans are welcomed as a quick path to riches. In most cases, a household is compensated with one or more modern apartments, or an equivalent sum of money.
Failing to benefit from such compensation are migrant workers, for whom the buildings marked for demolition are often the most affordable urban housing. So, too, at the home on North Huting Road. The bare concrete annex behind the building is rented out to migrant workers who have on-site recycling businesses.
A middle-aged man surnamed Song told Sixth Tone that he has rented a room in the building for two years at just 600 yuan ($91) per month. Hailing from the central province of Henan, Song came to Shanghai to join his son, who has been working there for over a decade. “The landlord asked me to leave as soon as possible,” he said. “Maybe I will live with my son, but I’m afraid his small rented house cannot accommodate me.”
But for one person at least, the upcoming demolition of the building is unquestionably good news. The house has always been a headache for the street cleaner in charge of North Huting Road. He told Sixth Tone there isn’t a clear boundary between where the public area stops and the house’s land begins. Whenever the wind blows the recycling businesses’ trash onto the road, it becomes his responsibility. “My boss will blame me if he finds anything dirty,” the man said. “If they leave, my job will be much easier.”