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Talk of the day -- When housing policy turns sour

2014/06/09 18:41:37

President Ma Ying-jeou underlined "living justice" in his May 20 national speech marking the sixth anniversary of his inauguration. Such justice, however, seems to have been nothing but a mirage for many in Taiwan over the years, as survey results show that 70 percent of the respondents do not think the government has carried out its promises.

A housing policy survey conducted by the Want Want China Times Poll Center among adults in Taipei, New Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung May 12-14 also indicates that 82 percent of the respondents think current housing prices are unreasonable when compared with their incomes.

Among the different age groups, the 30-39 group was found to be the most dissatisfied with housing prices, with 91 percent complaining that prices are unreasonably high.

Despite the grumbles, 69.4 percent of those surveyed listed owning a home as one of their life goals. However, 63.6 percent said they could never afford to buy one in an urban area, according to the survey, which collected 2,447 valid samples through telephone interviews.

"Using real estate purchase as the core finance management strategy for life will cause significant damage to the country and society," Hua Ching-chun, an associate professor at Takming University of Science and Technology, told the China Times.

A good housing policy should make helping the socially disadvantaged the top priority, Hua said, suggesting that the government should provide sufficient social housing and take measures to solidify the housing rental market.

How worse can a badly planned housing policy get? The local newspaper's report of living justice in Taiwan, published Monday, features the failure of the 1990-2014 Danhai New Town development project in New Taipei's Tamsui along the northern coast of Taiwan.

The following are excerpts from the report:

The project, initiated by then-President Lee Teng-hui, was aimed at "building housing units for middle- and low-income households," "resolving the housing problem in the Greater Taipei area" and "suppressing land prices," amid protests about a lack of affordable housing in metropolitan areas and rising housing prices.

The Danhai New Town was designed to accommodate 300,000 people on a plot of land as big as 1,756 hectares. Over the past 25 years, however, the town has only seen a residency rate of less than 10 percent.

Pointing to a group of more than 600 public housing units situated further along the coast, Danhai New Town resident Lu Cheng-chung said that basically, the project is a failure.

"Those in the middle and lower echelons cannot afford to commute (between the remote town and the city in which they work), Tamsui resident Wang Chung-ming said.

Also, no manufacturing industries want to move to the coastal area, while many local light industry businesses have been forced to move out due to the government's land requisition policies and restrictions that prevent the industry from expanding, he added.

Urban Reform Promotion Organization Secretary-General Peng Yang-kai said the government's housing policy is either encouraging people to buy homes or building cheap public housing. However, history shows "no one wants to live in a remote area," Peng said.

As for public housing built in urban areas, he pointed out, the volume is too small to suppress the rising housing prices. On the contrary, those who get the chance to buy this kind of unit through the drawing of lots is like winning the lottery, Peng said. "It can never truly resolve the housing problem."

(By Elizabeth Hsu)