Take a walk down nearly any street in China's big cities and you'll see where the most sweeping social transformation since the breakup of the communes two decades ago is about to take place.

Right at home - in the drab apartment buildings where most urban people live.China is about to end nearly 50 years of providing very low-rent apartments to urban workers, revealing details Wednesday of the government's plan to promote home buying instead.

Beijing hopes housing reform will unleash spending to spur economic growth. Another aim is to help debt-ridden state factories by eliminating their huge burden of providing housing.

To help people with average incomes afford to buy their housing for the first time, the government will set prices and provide subsidies, promote construction of affordable housing and encourage state banks to provide more mortgages.

Zhao Lijun, a former journalist who runs an art-framing business, said she and her husband, an artist who used to work for the Ministry of Culture, can afford to buy their two-bedroom apartment in central Beijing. The ministry, which owns their building, recently posted notices telling residents to apply to buy.

Some cities have been experimenting with housing reform for several years. In Tianjin, a port near Beijing, 60 percent of all government offices have stopped providing housing and have given workers lump-sum payments to help them buy apartments.