Ever since the Research Evaluation and Development Commission announced in 2009 that the cost of urban housing was one of the 10 biggest public complaints, President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration has claimed to be fighting for residential justice, making it a necessary component of every election campaign.
However, not long ago, the Ministry of Justice released data comparing housing prices and incomes. The comparison allows observers to estimate how affordable housing is. The ministry’s data ranked Taipei and New Taipei City first and third in the world, with housing price to annual income ratios of 15.01 and 12.67 respectively. The loan burden was 63 percent and 53 percent respectively, resulting from the government allowing the commercialization of housing.
The public housing that the administration promoted in the past was built at below-market costs, but it was common knowledge that once the properties were sold on to future buyers, their prices would be more equivalent to the going market rate.
This was undoubtedly because the government helped the public drive up housing prices, which was why the public housing policy failed and was called “lotto housing.”
This makes it clear that a one-time housing policy will not resolve the housing problem, nor will it help lower housing prices.
The affordable housing policy that the government started pushing in 2010 might sound novel and original in name, but it is not very different from the old public housing policy. It aims to cheaply sell land to developers who stand to make a profit on construction work.
It is just another one-time policy to make money from the public and help corporations turn a profit.
Although the Construction and Planning Administration says that providing a large volume of affordable housing will help adjust prices on the housing market, that does not explain the imbalance between supply and demand, or why prices do not come down even as the number of empty houses continues to grow.
This is why civic organizations blasted the policy as unfair when it was first proposed.
Anyone able to buy affordable housing must have a certain economic standing.
For example, an apartment in the Fuzhou affordable housing project in New Taipei City’s Banciao District (板橋) requires a 30 percent down payment, including a sum of about NT$400,000 that should be paid when the contract is signed.
This was one of the reasons that 26 percent of all the lucky people who were among the first group of selected buyers backed out, which raised questions as to whether affordable housing could help care for disadvantaged groups.
To implement the right to a place to live and promote sustainable development, the government must build a lot of social housing that is for rent only and cannot be sold. It also must reform the tax system.
If the government wants to implement housing justice, it should start by taking the situation seriously.
The cooperation in recent years between the government and big corporations — whether in connection to the affordable housing policy or the electronic toll-collection system — demonstrates that the administration’s slavish devotion to its neoliberal beliefs requires it to hand over public services to corporations.
While claiming to do so in the name of liberalization and small government, the government and its neoliberal policymaking can only harm the general public in the end.
Yang Shu-wei is executive secretary of the Taiwan Labor Front.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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