“The government uses whichever law works in its favor. That’s the problem,” the lawyer says.
Kao also points out that in recent years, civil actions brought by the government against inhabitants living on state-owned properties have increased in number as the penalty for illegal profiting (不當得利) is an effective way to force people to leave.
“In cases such as the Sanying Aboriginal Community (三鶯部落), they used an administrative order to force them to leave. Now they use lawsuits,” he says. “Law has become a tool to rule.”
Like Treasure Hill (寶藏巖) and the long demolished veterans’ settlement where Linsen Park (林森公園) now stands, Huaguang also raises the issue of squatter communities. It shows that the government, in its handling of the communities and their inhabitants, is unwilling to recognize the historical context in which the settlements were formed and tackle its inadequate housing policy over the years.
In the 1940s when the Chinese Nationalist Party retreated to Taiwan, they brought with them over a million soldiers and civilians from China. Most of them settled in informal housing quarters like Huaguang. During the 1960s and 1970s, people from the countryside constituted a second wave of immigrants to the urban areas. Official statistics show that in 1963, one third of the population in Taipei lived in squatter settlements, Hsu Yi-fu says.
To Huaguang resident Wang Yu-chi (王禹奇), the informal living quarters are the result of citizens taking up the responsibility to solve housing shortages.
“It was basically a government-in-exile that brought with it a large number of refugees who left their homes, families and everything else behind and tried to survive in a foreign land,” Wang says.
“What should have been the government’s job became the responsibility of the individual.”
John Liu (劉可強), executive director of the National Taiwan University Building and Planning Research Foundation (台灣大學建築與城鄉研究發展基金會), agrees. He says that the issue of so-called squatter settlements is a very complex one.
“It shouldn’t be called a squatter settlement. Rather, it is a type of urban dwelling developed in a specific historical context,” the urban planning professor and activist says.
For Shih, ignoring the historical background and stigmatizing inhabitants as illegal occupants is “utterly unacceptable.”
“But Huaguang’s case is much more difficult to tackle than with, say, the Wang (王) family [in the Wenlin Yuan (文林苑) urban renewal project] due to our fixation with private property ownership.”
The right to housing
While private ownership is a defining feature of a capitalist society like Taiwan, Kao says that civil law respects the connection people have to the land they live on.
“The longer people live in a place, the deeper the emotional bond they will have. The law respects and places emphasis on the rights of those who actually live on the land,” Kao explains. “The issue of informal settlement can only be solved when we shift from the idea of private property to the protection of the right to housing.”
In 2009, President Ma ratified the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which recognizes the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living including adequate food and housing. According to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), a body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the latter covenant, forced evictions are the major cause of violating people’s right to adequate housing.