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Park proposes using offices for public housing

Seoul mayor decries suburbanization of affordable apartments

Oct 02,2018
BARCELONA, Spain - Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon on Sunday proposed repurposing unused office space in central Seoul to provide more public housing to low and middle-income households.

“There are areas in Seoul that are not being used up to their full potential - especially some of the office buildings in the Gwanghwamun, Jongno and Euljiro areas,” Park told a group of reporters over dinner on Sunday in Barcelona.

Park is on a trip to Spain, Switzerland and Estonia until Oct. 7 to boost ties with the cities on smart and sustainable urban development. His comment followed a visit to the Barcelona city government’s urban development agency, the Area Metropolitana de Barcelona, which coordinates public housing policy.

“I thought about perhaps renting or selling out some of these spaces as public housing,” he said. “Putting them on sale for ownership may lead to fluctuation in the real estate market. So if we were to do something like this, I’d say we need to focus on providing more public housing for rent.”

Park’s plan to develop the Yeouido and Yongsan areas in western and central Seoul, announced in July, was blamed by some experts as a cause behind the recent spike in real estate speculation in Seoul, though the Seoul city government had shared plans to develop Yongsan for years. Park put the plans on hold in August.

Seoul provides public housing for both rent and purchase. For rental housing, the city government builds, buys or rents housing to provide cheaper apartments.

Last year, the Seoul Metropolitan Government acquired 271,300 apartments to rent them out to low-income families, newly-weds and others who meet the city’s requirements for public housing eligibility. Of the apartments, 20,691, or 7 percent, were located in central Seoul - Seongbuk, Yongsan, Jongno and Jung Districts.

Public housing was more concentrated in Gangseo District, western Seoul, and Nowon District, northern Seoul, according to data provided by the city government.

Government-announced public housing projects are mostly planned in areas outside of central Seoul.

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport announced last month its plan to supply 10,000 apartment units in Seoul on 11 sites. However, only two areas in Seoul were revealed, as it was still working on the plan with the Seoul city government. The ministry said the Seoul government will announce the nine remaining sites.

The projects revealed were in Songpa District, southeastern Seoul, where the relocated Seongdong Detention Center used to stand, and Gaepo-dong in Gangnam District, southern Seoul. These two sites are located on the edge of the nation’s capital, contrary to previous speculation that they would be located in the center of the city.

“What went wrong with our housing policies is that public housing is always being provided in the suburbs,” Park said. “We found out that there are at the least 1.5 million people commuting to Seoul every day. Because they want to save on the hours they spend on commuting, some of them, who are quite young, end up borrowing money to buy housing in Seoul that they cannot afford. I am trying to provide housing that they can afford.”

Park also said that public rental housing should not only go to low-income households.

“So far, if there was public rental housing available, the city government gave it first to those receiving basic livelihood funds from the government,” Park said.

“That could change. We can start offering housing to middle-class households and receive a fee whose rate would be proportionate to the applicant’s income level. We can use that profit to buy more housing and provide it at a lower price. It will be a win-win for all.”

Park said the city government is looking into these plans.

“We will come up with something innovative,” he said. “Something that will not boost prices in the real estate market and still provide additional housing for the people.”

He said he is still against the idea of lifting the restriction on developing greenbelt areas in Seoul. The central government and ruling party lawmakers have pointed to developing these green areas as a way to stabilize rising real estate prices in and around Seoul.

“I have been against the idea,” Park told reporters in Barcelona on Sunday. “Seoul is looking into ways to provide housing without lifting the restrictions.”

BY ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]


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