[Minority Voice]Realistic Resettlement Plans Are Needed

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[Minority Voice]Realistic Resettlement Plans Are Needed

If affordable housing is not found, squatters will simply return to their shanties and greenhouses.

Recently, a fire which took the lives of ten family members broke out in Segok-dong, Seoul, also known as Yulam village. The family of Lee Il-haeng, 59, a failed businessman, lived in a "vinyl house"- a plastic greenhouse for cultivating crops in cold weather. Mr. Lee turned to flower growing to make a living and, because he could not afford a house, he partitioned off four rooms in the greenhouse for 13 persons, including two married sons and their families.

There are communities in Gangnam-gu, Seocho-gu and Songpa-gu where people live in modified greenhouses or tents. Such modified dwellings are scattered around the country, and it has been estimated that at least 10,000 families live in greenhouses in metropolitan area. Some people who resort to such housing are those who suffered a sudden economic collapse, but the majority of them are on the bottom rungs of our society. They are mostly construction workers, street cleaners, handymen, peddlers and maids who work irregularly.

They live in greenhouses because they are poor. Before they moved into the greenhouses they lived in the slums of Seoul until those districts were developed into middle class residential areas. Until the 1980s they built illegal houses on vacant lots, riversides and mountain ridges on the fringes of Seoul. But Seoul's outward development and expansion was inexorable; it squeezed out the slums and replaced them with great forests of high-rise apartments. As a result, the slum-dwellers, having nowhere else to go, moved into public low-income housing apartments and basement rooms, and the even more destitute squatted in plastic greenhouses on vacant land. The background of their movement is entwined together with the history of the government's urban development policies. What can be done to help them?

The attitude of the district offices is firm. Government officials perceive these people as objects to be moved because they have illegally occupied property they do not own. So these greenhouse dwellers are denied resident registration where they live, their children face disadvantages in schools and have difficulty in receiving government minimum livelihood assistance because of controversy about whether they qualify under the law governing basic social welfare. Although an administrative court of Seoul ruled in January that measures to forcibly resettle them are illegal, the ward offices plan to appeal the decision and refuse to implement it.

Crackdowns and forced resettlement without any relief measures cannot resolve the fundamental problem. Forced removal with no other measures will fail; it is inhumane nor can such measures withstand the persistence of those fighting for subsistence. The government should provide inexpensive rental housing that squatters can afford in order to return the illegally occupied land to its rightful owners and remove the "squatter" stigma from the residents. Schemes which pay moving expenses or allow squatters the right to buy government housing will not work; they have no economic capacity to buy housing, and will simply return to the greenhouses if they cannot live in affordable alternative housing.

In order to distinguish the "fake indigents" from the truly needy, even though such abuses are relatively few, collectivized rental apartments should be provided, in which margin profits cannot rise. The government should build leased housing for the lower income brackets and let the illegal residents of the greenhouses move in after a check into their real income. The poor should be assigned housing which meets their income level by using a sliding scale for rental payments based on ability to pay. Thus, the problem of squatters can be solved automatically. Such a policy would justify the relocation and removal of the greenhouses and save a huge amount of government administrative effort.

writer -----------------------------------------------------------------------

The writer is an official of the Korea Center for City and Environment Research.

by Shin Myong-ho

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