Thu, Feb 03, 2011 - Page 2 News List

FEATURE: Families call for fairer urban renewal law

By Loa Iok-sin  /  Staff Reporter

A lone apartment complex sandwiched by two buildings torn down in October is pictured in Taipei late last month. A family opposing an urban renewal project continues to live in the surviving unit.

Photo: Loa Iok-sin, Taipei Times

The Lunar New Year is a time when families get together and go on family trips. However, some families will be staying home throughout the holidays — not to celebrate, but out of fear that their home might be torn down if they leave.

“We always leave at least one person at home because we’re afraid our house might be demolished if we all leave at once,” Peng Lung-san (彭龍三), owner of a small motorcycle repair shop near the intersection of Songshan Road and Zhongxiao E Road in Taipei, told the Taipei Times last week.

Peng’s shop is located on the ground floor of one of the few remaining decades-old apartment complexes in the area, surrounded by high-rise luxury apartments, office buildings, hotels and department stores.

The old apartment complex has become a target of urban-renewal developers.

The deal sounded tempting at first: The developer would tear down the more than 30-year-old buildings and turn them into nice, modern apartments. Each of the original households would be entitled to a unit in the new apartment, with an elevated value.

The Urban Renewal Act (都市更新條例) stipulates that developers must provide a copy of the project to be read and signed by residents, hire at least three certified real-estate appraisers to assess their current value and estimate their future — after reconstruction — value, then have residents sign an agreement to allow developers to begin the project.

However, developers often staple the two documents together, giving people the impression that they are two copies of the same document, said Peng, who founded the Taiwan Association for Justice in Urban Renewal to unite “victims” of what he calls unjust urban renewal projects.

Peng discovered something was amiss when the process started.

FALLING VALUE

“In February 2005, real-estate appraisers estimated the value of my place at about NT$420,000 per ping [3.3m2] and that the value would go up to NT$600,000 per ping after reconstruction,” Peng said. “However, when I bought the place in 1995, it cost me NT$800,000 per ping. How can the value go down when the area is rapidly developing and real-estate prices are skyrocketing?”

Peng turned down the offer, but it was no use, as most of his neighbors had agreed.

According to the law, urban renewal projects must have the approval of the owners of three-quarters of the total number of units or surface area.

Alternatively, the plan may be considered approved if one person who owns seven units in an apartment building agrees to the project even if the other three — each owning one unit — oppose it.

Peng is also upset about the fact that after the renewal project is completed, he would be getting back a unit that is slightly smaller than his current one.

“Basically, the developer calculates the total value of the property based on the estimated price, deducts the cost of reconstruction and allocates a housing unit based on post-renewal real estate value,” he said.

Hence, for the 17 ping unit Peng has now, he would get a 15.6 ping unit in return.

Despite the many questions that Peng and a handful of other residents still have, the project was approved and a demolition permit for the complex issued by the Taipei City Government.

With the demolition permit, the developer can demolish the complex any time and ask for government assistance to remove residents who refuse to leave — by force if necessary.

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