[VIEWPOINT]Shantytowns shouldn’t fester

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[VIEWPOINT]Shantytowns shouldn’t fester

Seoul still has two faces. A photograph recently taken by the JoongAng Ilbo perfectly captures this: It shows a humble Guryong village with imposing high-rise commercial and residential buildings right behind.
Shanty villages built without permission stem from the housing shortage in the capital. Government statistics indicate that the housing supply rate nationwide exceeds the need, but Seoul still falls short on housing, both in quality and quantity. Vinyl hothouses used for residential purposes and partitioned rooms that are built without permission represent this problem.
Shantytowns on hilltops or mountaintops in the big cities, which were ubiquitous from the 1960s to the 1980s, have been mostly removed by redevelopment projects. This is not to say that the problem of inadequate housing has been solved. A substantial number of residents in the shantytowns have merely moved to newly created vinyl houses, partitioned rooms and rooms in cellars.
The reasons for living in inadequate housing can be largely divided into four categories:
First, it can result from the death, illness, unemployment or low education of the head of the household or family members.
Second, while some social groups have access to and enjoy housing-related material and social benefits and windfall profits, others are deprived of these opportunities. An example is real estate speculation.
Third, the lazy and immoral behavior of shanty villagers, their lack of motivation, increased reliance on others and loss of enthusiasm for leading a productive life are often cited as the reason by the poor people themselves as well as by other social groups.
Last, defects in the social structure and housing and welfare policies contribute to the prevalence of substandard housing.
How should we approach the shantytown problem in the future? Most of them, including Guryong village in Gangnam, Seoul, result from all the aforementioned reasons. But whatever the causes may be, it is wrong to just leave shantytowns, which ostensibly do not exist on district maps, alone. My policy suggestion is that measures first be taken to meet the requirement for minimum housing standards.
We need to install devices that protect lives from the threat of natural and manmade disasters, including fire and flood damage. We should remember the case in which a fire turned an entire vinyl hothouse village into a pile of ash, taking dozens of people’s lives.
Another suggestion is that we should realize the right to adequate housing. From the perspective of urban management and housing policy, shantytowns should be a priority. If redevelopment is impossible, their residents should be encouraged to move into public housing.
Also, from the viewpoint of social welfare, the government must decide on welfare beneficiaries who will get the minimum living subsidy under the law. It is the stark reality that a considerable number of residents, including senior citizens living alone, are excluded from the welfare system because they live in houses built without permission. This problem needs to be addressed.
The 2002 census showed that 3.3 million households, or 23.1 percent of all households in Korea, failed to meet minimum housing standards. This means that one out of four families is still living in an environment that does not meet the minimum housing standards for human life. There are 740,000 homes that don’t even have a bathroom and a kitchen.
Most members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development have long had a “minimum housing system.” A similar concept to a minimum wage system, this system refers to a policy through which the government supports certain facilities and environments for housing.
Improving low-income housing is the same as guaranteeing the basic human right to adequate housing. Based on the shantytown residents’ voluntary and autonomous efforts, the government should suggest active policy programs to improve their housing environment. Shantytowns should not be left as they are.

* The writer is a professor of urban and regional planning at Chung-Ang University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Ha Sung-Kyu
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