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Korea is one of Asia’s most highly-developed countries, but in its cities, “development” means demolishing the affordable housing that already exists, evicting the poor tenants and turning over the land to big contractors to redevelop as high-rise real estate, with super-highways zooming between them. This is government policy, and every urban area can be demolished and rebuilt this way – even nice old neighborhoods that have nothing wrong with them. All this redevelopment generates a high GDP, but the poor are really suffering, because those new condo blocks are far too expensive for the poor and low-income renters who used to live there. Some manage to get into public rental housing, but growing numbers of poor tenants evicted from redevelopment areas end up living in crowded, far-away and sub-standard rental accommodation or making their own dwellings in informal “vinyl house” squatter settlements, named for the flimsy and flammable materials the houses are made from. (1)
Right to Housing
The South Korean Constitution guarantees every citizen’s property and housing rights in principle :
Article 14 – Article 16 – Article 23 paragraph 1. However, the right to property can be circumscribed when there is determined to be a matter of public necessity (Constitutional restrictions : Article 23 paragraph 3).
Social movements point of view : “The problem is that it is too easy to be recognized as the case of “public necessity”. Not only national projects but also private development projects can be recognized as a matter of public necessity”.
When the huge evictions were taking place in Seoul back then, in preparation for the Olympics (1988), the crisis galvanised Korea’s housing rights movement, drew support from sympathetic activists and professionals around Asia and led to the birth of the ACHR coalition (Asian Coalition for Housing Rights). The struggle against those evictions brought about some positive changes for the poorest urban Koreans – particularly the right of poor tenants in neighbourhoods undergoing “redevelopment” to be re-housed in subsidised public rental housing in the same area. Twenty years later and after Korea’s rise to the ranks of Asia’s most powerful economies, we all expected that things in Seoul would have settled down. In fact, the process of “redevelopment” in Seoul is not only still going on, but it’s speeding up. In 2011 some 50 neighbourhoods were in the process of being bulldozed, to be replaced by gleaming and high-priced condominium blocks and 8-lane boulevards. (1)
Seoul : Hanwha Buildings & Samsung Town & Yeouido Park
- Housing and Land Rights Violation Database in each country (Housing and Land Network – HIC): http://hlrn.org/welcome_violation.php#.VD-IVCi7_vQ
- Zero Evictions Campaign (International Alliance of Inhabitants): http://www.habitants.org/zero_evictions_campaign
How does the government steal a village ?
Process for the Utilization of National Land for National Projects in South Korea National project: national security project, governmental project, and recognized private project (2) :
- Step 1: expropriation consultation: land owners must sell land at the price fixed by the project itself.
- Step 2: rulings on expropriation and objections: in cases where there is an objection to the expropriation of land proposal (Step 2), this shall be renegotiated. However, the project itself can not be objected to, rather it is the amount of compensation which can be renegotiated.
- Step 3: Administrative litigation: if there is an objection to the expropriation decision (Step 2), it goes to administrative litigation, but at this stage there can be no negotiation on other decisions (such as a refusal of expropriation) except for the compensation amount. In cases where the land owner refuses until the end, the compensation amount will be deposited and the project will forcibly proceed. Forced eviction: of the land owner or tenant resists until the end, they will be forcibly evicted.
- Data sets on agricultural land grabbing in the world (GRAIN): https://www.grain.org/bulletin_board/entries/4429-new-data-sets-on-land-grabbing
- The Online Public Database on Land Deals – Global Observatory (Land Matrix): http://landmatrix.org/en/
- Old People
- Young People
Some Interesting Practices
- ACCA PROJECT : The ACCA projects in South Korea, which are being implemented by the Seoul-based NGO Asian Bridge, have been used to survey and bring together these informal vinyl house communities, help them build a network, start savings, undertake small infrastructure upgrading projects and use their “group power” to begin looking for their own solutions to the serious land, housing and infrastructure problems they face. These vinyl house communities have used the small project funds from ACCA to lay drains and water pipes, pave lanes, install briquette boilers for heating, repair flood-damaged houses and build community centers and recycling stations in their communities. The communities have also taken part in international exchange visits to other Asian countries, through the ACHR/ACCA process, where they have learned more about the importance of community savings and the potential for even the most poor and marginalized communities to bring about change in their lives.Their dream is eventually to build their own housing, rather than move into box-like units in the faceless high-rise apartment blocks which are increasingly the form which both public rental housing and market-sector housing in Korea takes. But the astronomical price of land is a major obstacle, and few want to move to remote sites far from the city, where land might be more affordable. Over the last five years, the vinyl house network has looked for ways to use ACCA big project funds strategically to either set up a revolving loan fund for improving their existing houses, or to leverage other sources of funds to finance some kind of community-driven housing pilot, but none of these possibilities have been realized yet. (1)
- NEW MODEL OF COOPERATIVES : One of the exciting policy breakthroughs in Korea recently has been the taking out and dusting off of the old cooperative model to add a new, non-profit option for people to rent or develop affordable housing as a group – which they could only do previously as individuals. The rental housing laws have been revised, and soon it will be possible for groups of people in need of housing to register themselves as cooperatives, and then apply to the government for housing loans and subsidies (which usually go only to the big developers who construct Korea’s high-rise public housing blocks) to help them design and develop new forms of affordable housing for their members. Under the new laws, this housing (or the land it is on) could either be owned by the cooperative or rented from the government by cooperatives, at subsidized public housing rates.One of the first groups to seize this opportunity was the network of vinyl house communities in Seoul, Gwacheon and Busan, who had first come together through the ACCA process. In 2013, with support from KCHR (Korean Coalition for Housing Rights) and Asian Bridge, they registered themselves legally as the Ssi-Al Housing Cooperative. Ssi-Al is a word in the indigenous Hangeul language that describes the kind of peace and love that treats all people equally: an appropriate word for a cooperative which is jointly-owned, democratically-controlled and provides decent, affordable housing to its low-income members. So far, 130 families have joined the cooperative, and they are already searching for possible public land to rent cheaply for their first housing project, much inspired by the community-driven housing projects they have visited in other Asian countries, during various ACHR and ACCA meetings and events. But housing is not the only tune a cooperative can play, and the Ssi-Al Cooperative has already launched a community vegetable growing enterprise in Seoul and opened their own cafe in a vinyl house community in Busan. (1)
SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC ASPECTS
Quality of Housing
Informal Housing / Slum / Homeless
About 50,000 households are living in these informal communities in Korea, built on leftover bits of public and private land, on low-lying and flood prone areas. Only 40% of the houses in these settlements have toilets, and many are vulnerable to floods and fires and poorly protected against Korea’s harsh winters. (1)
There are 38 informal “vinyl house” communities in Seoul, which are home to over 10,000 households. Over the last five years, several of these communities formed a network, started savings groups, implemented small ACCA-supported upgrading projects and lobbied to get ID cards. But how to get secure land and housing has been the big issue nobody knows how to tackle – even after Seoul got a progressive new mayor who actively supported cooperative housing as an alternative to the city’s long tradition of contractor-driven neighborhood redevelopment or faceless and expensive public rental housing in tower blocks.
In November 2012, CAN, ACHR and Asian Bridge jointly organized a workshop in Seoul to help community members from three vinyl house settlements to brainstorm about alternative housing possibilities. During the four-day workshop, a group of Korean, Thai and Japanese architects worked with the people in these communities to look at possible strategies for securing their land (such as renting or buying land from the government, or from private landowners) and finding financing to develop their own cooperative housing, and then to explore some different housing design and settlement planning options for this new kind of social housing (including ground floor row-house developments, as well as low-rise apartment blocks). (1)
ROLE OF PUBLIC AUTHORITIES
Bibliography & Sitography
- Asian Coalition for Housing Rights : http://www.achr.net/countries-de.php?ic=5
- Source : 江汀村海軍基地反對對策委員會 – Strategic Committee of Anti-introduction of Naval Base for Gangjeong Village
SEEN BY SOCIAL MOVEMENTS
Major Claims or Demands
- Survey all the urban poor who can’t afford or don’t want to live in public rental housing, including vinyl house communities and “jokbang” room renters.
- Develop more new forms of housing supply (such as community-designed housing, cooperative housing and on-site upgrading of informal settlements) in order to reach out more particular types of groups like these vinyl house or renters.
- Make finance available, in the form of an “urban poor housing fund” , which could function as a new, flexible financial tool to help urban poor organizations develop these new housing new possibilities. The funds would provide soft loans and infrastructure grants The fund could start with a capital of about US$ 100 million (which represents the per-unit government public housing subsidy of US$20,000 x 5,000 units) to start with.
- Make land available for the first housing pilots. The land could come from public, private or church owners by the city government or be identified and negotiated by the urban poor, and it could be leased or sold to the community groups, with loans from the fund. If we target at least 10 hectares of land from all these options, that could house about 2,000 families (in 2-story row houses on 35-40 m2 plots).
- Let the urban poor and their support organizations be the key actors in initiating and implementing these new housing solutions. This includes building strong and collective community organizations, starting savings or housing to build people’s collective fund systems, developing social programs in communities to develop community-based systems for dealing with poverty and welfare needs, and build strong community networks and partnerships.
- Mobilize civil society groups and universities to support this process of developing new housing options for the poor.
- Build joint mechanisms which allow the urban poor to become active participants in this housing development and which allow the government’s working culture to be more inclusive and participatory.
- Make this development of new housing options for the poor a clear policy agenda for Seoul, getting everybody to help – the central government, church groups, private sector, international agencies, universities, civil society, communities, media.
Some Civil Society Actors
- ASIAN COALITION FOR HOUSING RIGHTS : ACHR, now 24 years old, is a coalition of Asian professionals, NGOs and community organizations committed to finding ways to make change in the countries where their work is rooted – change that goes along with the particular realities of their own cultures, politics and ways of doing things. The collective experience of all these groups represents a huge quantum of understanding and possibilities – Asia’s own home-grown development wisdom. After linking together as a coalition first in 1989, we began exploring ways of joining forces and supporting each other through a growing number of joint initiatives: housing rights campaigns, fact-finding missions, training and advisory programs, exchange visits, workshops and study tours, projects to promote community savings and community funds and citywide slum upgrading. http://www.achr.net/countries-de.php?ic=5
- KOCER : Korea Center for City and Environment Research. Their aims : To analyze urban problems including low-income housing, land use, industry and environmental pollution – To develop progressive policy alternatives to those problems – To advocate grassroots movements by carrying out programs for community leaders and organizers who work with the urban poor. Their activities : Researches on low-income housing and housing welfare, employment relations and workers’ living conditions, urban pollution and community organization movements, etc. – Training programs or workshops for the community leaders and organizers who work with the urban poor. https://wiser.directory/organization/korea-center-for-city-and-environment-research-kocer/
- ASIAN BRIDGE : ??? http://www.asianbridge.co.jp/
- KCHR KOREA : The ACCA process in Korea strikes a special chord for ACHR, since it was in Korea that ACHR was born, twenty years ago. When the huge evictions were taking place in Seoul back then, in preparation for the Olympics, the crisis galvanised Korea’s housing rights movement, drew support from sympathetic activists and professionals around Asia and led to the birth of the ACHR coalition. http://www.achr.net/countries-de.php?ic=5