Tue, Nov 16, 2010 - Page 8 News List

Social housing not a campaign tool

By Lin Wan-yi 林萬億

In April, the Taiwan Community Living Consortium held an international symposium on social housing in Taichung. A group of people concerned with the right of abode had the idea of forming a consortium aimed at promoting social housing and I was invited to take part in integrating the efforts of the social welfare and housing groups. In August, the consortium was established and in just six months, the social housing issue has received as much attention as retirement pensions, which was something we never expected.

The consortium originally only hoped to turn the support from Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Taipei mayoral candidate Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) and DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) into pressure on Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the party’s Sinbei City mayoral candidate, Eric Chu (朱立倫). We never expected that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) would suddenly pay attention to the issue.

When Ma met with members of the consortium, he expressed support and urged the ministries concerned to submit a plan of action within one month. As a result, Minister of the Interior Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) said that within two weeks, three or four plots of land would be selected in the Greater Taipei area to build social housing for more than 1,000 families. Hau also piped up with plans to build a social housing project on the site of the former Air Force general headquarters, a prime piece of real estate in downtown Taipei.

So far, there have been both positive and negative developments. On one hand, social housing has become part of the election campaigns, which is good for raising awareness. On the other hand, however, politicians have been making unrealistic promises that could make things worse. If we look at the history of social housing, it is easy to see why I am worried.

In 1957, the government started to build public housing, but this ended in failure. In 1972, a plan to help the needy listed building houses for the poor as a goal. This was the beginning of building affordable housing in the country. The decision to only rent and not sell the houses was in line with the spirit of social housing, but limiting it to only low-income families went against the concept. Four of these buildings for poorer people, housing 1,544 families, still remain in Taipei today.

Then in 1994, when former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was running for Taipei mayor, I suggested that public housing should only be rented and not sold. After Chen was elected, this policy was enacted and this is why there is now rented public housing in Taipei for more than 3,000 families. In May 1999, the DPP amended part of its party program incorporating my suggestion to include building public housing and renting it to lower income earners to lower the cost of housing and protect the public’s right of abode.

After the DPP took over the national government, it worked on amending the social welfare policy, which was passed and implemented by the Cabinet in 2004, formally making social housing a national policy. On May 24, 2005, the Cabinet listed social housing as part of a comprehensive housing policy. This later gave birth to the draft housing act. However, since the KMT government took over in 2008, the Cabinet has been sitting on the draft. This is also the reason why Su and Tsai support the idea of social housing.

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