Shanghai-based Vlinker is tackling urban China’s acute shortage of affordable rental housing and has attracted attention — as well as capital — from some of the world’s biggest real estate investors.
With that affordable housing gap in mind, Vlinker has launched Shanghai’s largest affordable rental community, through a landmark project to convert former factory dormitories into a vibrant community. The fully furnished, tenant-ready homes at the Vlinker Pujiang Center Community were unveiled on 26 October , with 3,116 apartment units across six renovated buildings in Pujiang Town, part of Shanghai’s Minhang district.
The project along Kanghua Road in southern Shanghai represents a new type of housing for the city’s fast-growing suburbs, as well as an opportunity for talent flocking to the megacity from around China to secure an affordable place to live in a location close to some of the industries driving growth in the commercial capital.
Backed by international heavyweight fund managers as well as leading onshore partners, Vlinker draws on several decades’ worth of real estate investment and development experience accumulated by its management team to now oversee $1.3 billion in assets, including 7 projects of 30,000 rooms under its asset-heavy business.
Building a Livable Community for Young People
With easy access to Subway Line 8, which directly connects to major business clusters like People’s Square, Xintiandi and Qiantan, the Vlinker Pujiang Center Community provides mostly one-bedroom apartments to capture the influx of young graduates and professionals.
With the goal of achieving a balance between community and privacy, the project equips with amenities such as branded home appliances, smart door locks and communal facilities including basketball courts, study rooms, a convenience store, a bookshop and a gym.
Along with en-suite kitchen spaces, two shared kitchens and two communal dining halls are provided to bring tenants together from over 10 different provinces. Other regular activities available to tenants include city walks , movie nights, yard sales, basketball tournaments, live music shows and art exhibitions.
By bringing affordable rental homes to a fast-growing Shanghai neighbourhood, Vlinker Pujiang Center Community has already attracted the tenancy of more than 1,600 employees from enterprises in Pujiang Town, a community of about 100,000 people living on the east bank of the Huangpu River within bustling Minhang district, itself home to 2.5 million people.
Already some 97 percent of the 1,000 apartments made available in the first phase of the project starting from March have been occupied, with most of the initial tenants employed in Pujiang-based enterprises engaged in information technology, finance, consulting and other industries. More than 85 percent of these new residents have a bachelor’s degree or more advanced education.
Site Transformed in 9 Months
Vlinker acquired the dilapidated dormitory site in 2021 and completed its transformation within nine months during the coronavirus pandemic. Wang Zhen, deputy director of the Shanghai Municipal Housing and Urban-Rural Development Administration Commission and director of the Shanghai Municipal Housing Administration, said Vlinker had “injected a vital force into the old project”.
Chief executive officer Vic Zhou said Vlinker hoped to be a beacon of urban renewal: “We strive to be the representative of the transformation and upgrading of existing properties in the city.”
The Vlinker Pujiang Center Community is part of the company’s continuing focus on Shanghai, even though it has national aspirations. The community, the company said, is designed to address the livability and career development needs of young, mobile professionals , allowing them to have their own homes in the booming megacity of Shanghai.
Founded in Shanghai in 2011, Vlinker has become one of China’s largest affordable rental housing platform aimed at younger tenants. An industry pioneer, Vlinker developed its first project in 2011, earlier than major competitors. By 2018, the company was among the largest rental home operators in Shanghai with 40 projects and 25,000 apartments under management through its asset-light business model.
With 7 projects acquired and 30,000 apartments under management by its asset-heavy business model, Vlinker has become the largest asset-heavy rental apartment platform in Shanghai. The company aims to build another 45,000 homes in the next five years to address the most active and resilient demand of the market.
The Vlinker Pujiang Centre Community is part of the company’s continuing “laser focus” on Shanghai. Its target remains building quality, affordable multifamily communities for young professionals and recent graduates on a large scale, as it pioneers projects of 1,000-plus rooms. Vlinker touts its experience in development and value-added strategies, citing its focus on China’s 8-million-plus graduates and mobile worker inflow every year.
China’s multifamily sector has been resilient against market volatility and the downturn sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic. Multifamily rental levels have rebounded the strongest compared with retail and office assets, while occupancy rates have remained stable, according to CBRE research.
Despite the pandemic, the company secured 400 new tenants in the Vlinker Pujiang Center Community in September of 2022 alone, even as rents were increased. Vlinker’s advantage, the company says, is its product positioning in an extreme supply-demand mismatch within an overlooked market segment. Quality affordable housing catering to young, educated people remains scarce despite the sector’s resilient rental income and 85 to 90 percent occupancy rates, compared with 50 percent in high-end developments during recessions and the pandemic.
As the biggest multifamily investor in Shanghai, Vlinker strives forward, with a goal of becoming China’s leading multifamily asset and fund manager, to deepening its close-looped capital recycling with support from international as well as domestic capital partners. The company secured a $625 million joint venture with a global private equity investor in 2021 to invest and develop high quality multifamily projects in Shanghai, and has plans to work with more capital partners.
The investment prospects for rental housing is materializing by the introduction in July 2021 of China real estate investment trusts. By November 2022, 3 affordable rental housing C-REITs is listed with the fourth one to be listed soon.
“We are delighted to see the development of C-REITs especially the successful listings of 3 affordable rental housing REITs, we are closely studying the landscape in order to recycle our capital efficiently and optimize our investor’s return.” said Craig To, Vlinker’s head of capital raising. As part of its capital strategy, Vlinker has plans to recycle its capital through C-REITs as well as to set up core strategies in the future.