Minister of the Interior Lee Hong-yuan (李鴻源) said he wanted to turn school campuses into residential communities by taking idle classrooms vacated because of dwindling student populations and converting them into social housing units.
Lee said this was only an “initial idea” that he would discuss with the Ministry of Education and local governments because it would involve merging schools, rezoning school districts, swapping land and transferring property.
“We need to brainstorm” on this issue, he said, adding that there would be “many discussions” before his idea could be turned into reality.
Lee said he got the idea when he saw some elementary schools in the greater Taipei area that used to have thousands of pupils with many empty classrooms because the number of students had shrunk to just hundreds as a result of lower birth rates in recent years.
“Campuses have green land and playgrounds that assure good quality living spaces. So I would suggest that we turn them into social housing units” to help solve the nation’s housing problem,” he said.
He said his ministry has budgeted NT$3 billion (US$102 million) for Taipei and New Taipei City (新北市) to acquire land for five social housing projects.
However, because of the high demand for social housing, Lee said the government cannot afford to buy all the land needed for such projects.
“Changing vacant classrooms into social housing units could be an efficient and cost--effective way to achieve the goal of providing adequate social housing,” he said.
Lee said that when he was public construction minister, he turned a police dormitory in Yonghe (永和), New Taipei City, into a youth housing complex and a tax office in Pingtung County into a youth hostel. Both projects were hailed as good examples of “reviving and reusing” idle buildings.
Lee said he understood that “location” factors into decisions on how to make good use of idle public offices or buildings. In northern Taiwan, they could be converted into social housing units that could be rented to less privileged young people. In southern Taiwan, where the need for social housing units is not as urgent, “open discussion should be held about how to use idle public buildings.”
In Chung Hsing New Village (中興新村), Nantou County, the site of the now-defunct Taiwan Provincial Government, there are many idle rooms and offices, he said, and many township office buildings are no longer in use following the merger of counties and cities into municipalities in late 2010.
“These local buildings can be put on our discussion list too,” Lee said.
He said his ministry would set an example by examining how to make flexible use of idle offices left behind by the police and immigration authorities under the ministry.
Greater Kaohsiung Department of Education Deputy Director Kuo Chin-chih (郭金池) said it might not be a good idea to change vacant schools into apartment units in Greater Kaohsiung, where housing prices are not a problem.
“Still, we can turn them into parks or other public places. For instance, we’re planning to turn former Zuoying Junior High School into part of the park that currently features Lianchi Lake,” Kuo said.
However, Taipei City Councilor Hsu Shu-hua (許淑華) accused Lee of proposing an “unworldly” idea, contending that the root cause of housing shortages in Taipei is the high price of housing units.