Wed, Jul 03, 2013 - Page 12 News List

Refugees “squatting” on a gold mine

In the first of a two-part series, the ‘Taipei Times’ examines the history of Huaguang Community and the controversial demolition of the neighborhood from the viewpoint of residents

By Ho Yi  /  Staff reporter

Apart from public employees, those civilians and soldiers who followed the KMT to Taiwan also made their way to Prison Gate. Brother Lee’s (李哥) father, for example, set up ramshackle houses together with his friends.

“There were so many people. They found places to live in whatever way they could. You couldn’t let them sleep on the street, could you?” says Brother Lee, who has lived in Huaguang since 1958, when he was born.

The prison and detention center were relocated to the suburbs of Taipei in the 1960s and the 1970s. Meanwhile, Taiwan’s economy took off, and the city quickly expanded. Masses of people left the countryside to seek work in the capital, settling in places like Huaguang.

“Poor country folk and KMT veterans couldn’t afford to live elsewhere in the city. But they could buy a house here,” says resident Mr Lee (李先生), who requested anonymity because he fears for his safety.

For as long as Cheng Wei-hui and Mr Lee can remember, Huaguang has been a forlorn place sealed in against outsiders because no one would want to live in a neighborhood where people were executed and “the clack of shackles was heard at night.”

“No one would come, except for the poor and those who worked here,” the 56-year-old Mr Lee recalls. “As late as the 1970s, there were still empty plots of land available if people wanted to build houses here.”

Long-term residents, newcomers and their families have lived side by side in the humble neighborhood in the decades since then. Little did they know that their home would one day become a “gold bar” in the eyes of politicians and land developers.

urban gold mine

In 2007, the Executive Yuan announced the “Four Gold Bars” (四大金磚) plan, in which Huaguang would be developed into Taipei’s Wall Street. Four years later, the plan was changed to Taipei Roppongi (台北六本木), a scheme that aims to transform the shabby neighborhood into a glittery commercial and shopping district.

Hsu Yi-fu (徐亦甫), a leader in the Huaguang Student Team which has been lobbying on behalf of Huaguang residents since last December, estimates that the build-operate-transfer (BOT) project will bring in investment worth close to one hundred billion dollars, though the details of the development program have yet to be made public. Hsu’s findings are backed up by a study done by property developer CB Richard Ellis Ltd’s (CBRE) Taiwan branch. The only thing that is certain is that the Huaguang residents were never part of the plan.

To facilitate demolition of the community and hand the “cleared” land over to the Ministry of Finance, which manages state-owned properties, the MOJ divided the nearly 700 households into three categories: legal dormitory tenants, illegal dormitory tenants — those who had job transfers — and illegal occupants, which includes those who have lived in the community without “official” permission. Since 2006, the 175 “illegal occupant” households have been slapped with lawsuits by the ministry under the Principles for the Disposal of Occupied National Public Use Real-Estate Managed by Administrative Authorities (各機關經管國有公用被占用不動產處理原則), which allows the government to use civil suits to remove squatters.

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