In this Chinese tower block, residents pay to take the lift home

Updated 8:15 PM ET, Sun June 27, 2021

Hangzhou, China (CNN)In 2001, when their old home was demolished to make way for a new thoroughfare, Wang Zhenyuan and his wife didn't mind that their replacement apartment was a seventh-floor walkup. They were in their fifties and fit.

But 20 years later, the former silk factory workers feel differently. "Our legs aren't so good anymore," 79-year-old Wang says with a friendly smile missing several teeth.
Theirs is one of the most immediate problems to arise from China's aging population. As bureaucrats in Beijing fret about curbing the country's falling birth rate -- recently allowing up to three children per married couple -- and funding ever more pensions, seniors like Wang worry about simply getting up and down the stairs.
The couple's neighborhood, Bigui Garden, in a suburb of the eastern Chinese city Hangzhou, is made up of rows of blocks, each fitted with an internal staircase and 12 apartments on the second to seventh floors.
China has an enormous stock of stairs-only neighborhoods. Most were built before the turn of the millennium by the government, which preferred to construct towers not above six stories -- anything taller legally needs a lift.
In 2019, the vice minister of China's Housing Ministry said more than 100 million people lived in residential compounds with buildings older than about 20 years that were found lacking necessary facilities, such as elevators.
Many of the people who moved into such apartments decades ago have since become retirees with creaky knees, and the country's demographic trends point toward their ranks only growing in number. The latest census showed the proportion of citizens over 65 years old jumping from 9% in 2010 to 13.5% in 2020.
And they all need somewhere suitable to live.