Mon, Feb 20, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in dire need of real social housing

By Chen Yi-ling 陳怡伶

The housing system in Taiwan has three defining characteristics. First, it has been fully commercialized. Public housing originally fulfilled a social function, but almost every unit has since been sold off and privatized. As a result, public housing policy has been likened to a lottery. Second, the system ignores disadvantaged groups, social justice and low-income housing: rented housing accounts for only 0.08 percent of public housing. Third, the system encourages speculation, the biggest problems being an unreasonable tax system and a lack of property transaction transparency.

Pushed by the social housing movement, the government is now finally introducing a few new policies, but a close look at what is planned is discouraging.

Social housing is planned at five sites. Three projects in New Taipei City will be build, operate and transfer (BOT) projects, mainly targeting people between 20 and 40 years old. No decision has yet been made about the remaining two projects, but the city is turning a temporary housing project into public rental accommodation in Dalongdong (大龍峒) for people between 20 and 40 years old, with an annual income of less than NT$1.58 million.

Bidding for the government’s affordable housing project is finished and “lottery-style” public housing will be built next to the A7 station on the future airport MRT line. However, the Housing Act (住宅法) passed late last year does not define “social housing.” It states only that 10 percent of new social housing must be reserved for disadvantaged groups. The government shirks all responsibility for the project, which will be a BOT project favoring construction companies. Housing prices will be announced on a district-by-district basis so pricing is neither transparent nor based on real market prices.

The government’s housing policy shows no real determination to resolve the problem. If it was sincere the government would take a long hard look at those at the bottom of the housing system. Home ownership and vacancy rates are high across the nation, but only about 30 percent of low-income households own their homes.

These policies do not target the people most in need of housing resource redistribution, nor do they try to understand their living environment and needs. Ultimately talk about housing justice or fair living standards is just hot air.

In recent years, neighboring countries have increased their share of social housing. From 2000 to 2010, South Korea increased the proportion of social housing from 2.5 percent to 6.3 percent of total housing stock, building an average of 240,000 units every four years.

Although Hong Kong suffers from serious social inequalities, the percentage of public housing remains at about 30 percent, and this is likely to increase as a result of strong social demand.

Providing stable housing to low-income households means caring for the next generation. According to data from the Ministry of the Interior, at least 120,000 children and teenagers live in low-income households. Given the declining birthrate, these “masters of the future” are a precious social asset because the task of supporting an ageing society will ultimately fall to them.

Perhaps we can get by without building affordable housing, but we cannot stop building social housing. Most importantly, before such construction projects begin, we must listen to disadvantaged groups.

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