As late as the mid-1980s, it was still common for housewives in any given neighborhood in Seoul to gather together in a friend’s kitchen and have lunch together almost on a daily basis. Over a modest yet hearty meal prepared by the homeowner, such as hot noodle soup, the housewives would talk about the issues and problems they faced. One would complain about her daughter not studying hard enough, while another would express her concerns about how her son was not listening to her. Yet another would talk about how her son was entering puberty and growing increasingly moody. There would also usually be a mother who felt helpless over the constant bickering and fighting between her two kids. These informal gatherings were a great way for women to lighten the heavy burdens of life weighting on their minds, discuss possible solutions, and take an interest in and care for one another’s wellbeing. Where are these kinds of meetings today?
Today, we no longer even consider getting acquainted with our own neighbors so intimately. Today’s rules of propriety require that we, as individuals, take care of our problems all on our own; the right and mature thing to do is to never ask one’s neighbors for help. We are all on our own in this cold, dog-eat-dog world. Although we may no longer have to deal with nosy neighbors and their intrusions upon our privacy, we have now come to face a host of problems that can only be solved by the entire community.
The diverse projects carried out by the Neighborhood Community Program (NCP) over the last few years have been addressing the loneliness and limitations of the modern, individualist lifestyle and striving to restore relationships, neighborhoods, and communities. Inspired by these endeavors to rebuild communities, the Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) has introduced community housing of its own.
The founding purpose of Seoul’s community housing project is to provide housing where people can find greater happiness by connecting and talking with their neighbors. The project began by shifting the paradigm of homes from private properties merely to be owned to combinations of common and private spaces. Seoul’s first community housing building was established in Seongmisan, Mapo-gu, in April 2011, with nine families and three community enterprises as tenants. The residents of the Seongmisan neighborhood, who began their initiative with a joint childcare program, soon embarked on other community-organizing activities, such as establishing a nursery, consumers’ cooperative, and community diner. Community housing was a natural outcome of these innovative community endeavors. Eventually, the locals came together to purchase land and designed and built their own homes through close consultations with one another.
|Community housing on leased land (Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu)||Dinner in community housing|
Borindure Housing, located in Siheung-dong, Geumcheon-gu, is a four-story building that houses 10 senior citizens living without families. The borough of Geumcheon-gu and the Seoul Housing Corporation purchased the facility together to provide public housing for seniors at affordable rates (averaging KRW 94,000 a month). The first two floors of the building house a seniors’ center, which is open to all elderly residents in the neighborhood, while the top two floors provide living spaces for the tenants. There are common living rooms and kitchens, but the tenants also have access to private spaces of their own, equipped with bedrooms, bathrooms, and kitchenettes.
All the tenants, who lived in very poor housing prior to moving into this building, have expressed great happiness and gratitude for having been given the opportunity to stay at Borindure; it has not only helped them financially, but also restored a sense of wellbeing to their lives.
The growing tendency of young people to avoid marriage and the aging of the population in general are fuelling the rapid growth of single-person households among young people and seniors alike. Having made up 27 percent of the nation’s total population in 2015, single-person households are expected to increase their share of the total population to 28.9 percent by 2020 and further to 30.1 percent by 2030, ushering in numerous culture and lifestyle changes. Neologisms such as honbapjok (meaning “people who eat alone”) have become common, and the types and quantities of merchandise on the market targeting single-person households have increased significantly. However, the vulnerability of these households to loneliness and crime has sparked a growing discourse on the need to find new types of living arrangements, such as shared housing.
In the meantime, the rise of monthly rentals and decline of yearly leases, which are relatively cheaper, are forcing increasing numbers of people out of comfortable housing. Moreover, the rising cost of housing places a significant financial burden on ordinary households, with the cost of two-year leases now amounting to an average of 72 percent of the cost of owning a home in Seoul, as of July 2015). The prevalence of high-rise apartment buildings, which accounted for 63 percent of all homes in Seoul in 2014, has also promoted the trend of individualism and accelerated the collapse of communities, leading many to become nostalgic for a time when it was normal for neighbors to help each another out in times of need.
These numerous social and cultural changes have set the stage for the expansion of community housing in Seoul.
Community housing began with a paradigm shift in the housing market—that is, the embrace of a new perspective where homes are regarding as spaces to be shared with friends.
For individuals, building housing can be a very costly and risky endeavor. Teaming up with like-minded individuals to purchase land and design and build a residential building together, however, is not only a cost-effective way of securing housing, but also reduces the risks of crime and loneliness. The SMG has thus introduced community housing that both respects tenants’ privacy and enables them to escape loneliness by giving them the freedom to enjoy each other’s company when needed.
Community housing in Seoul is available in two forms: the leasing of housing units developed by city-designated developers or the construction of housing by groups of tenants themselves.
|Community housing forum||Community housing briefing|
In order to hear a wide range of opinions on the matter and identify the policy actions that needed to be taken, Seoul organized multiple meetings, including a policy debate on cooperative-type community housing (March 2014), a debate among community housing experts (December 2014), and public forums and guest lectures (from March to December of 2015).
Based on the opinions shared at these meetings, the city government developed and launched a community housing platform as part of the city’s website in May 2015 and reformed the administrative and legislative framework for the project by amending land regulations (August 2015). The city then sought to increase public awareness and participation by organizing a community housing design competition and exhibition (July to October of 2015), entering into an agreement with the Consumers’ Cooperative and other agencies involved (September 2015), setting up a public relations booth on community housing at iCOOP’s national conference (October 2015), organizing public briefings (November to December of 2015), hosting an open house for the trial community housing project (December 2015), and running a subway-based advertising campaign (December 2015).
The first trial run of community housing, accommodating a total of 226 households (101 developed and distributed by private-sector businesses and 125 created by Seoul City), was launched toward the end of 2015. Erected on public land, the buildings of the public community housing project (owned by the Seoul Housing Corporation) included eight new housing units for neighborhood activists and their families and another 10 units for theater actors and their families in a remodeled building in Samseon-dong, Seongbuk-gu.
|Community housing public relations booth||Agreement with Consumers’ Cooperative, etc.|
|Community housing for lease on public land (Samseon-dong, Seongbuk-gu)||What life in community housing would be like|
Seoul’s ambition is to establish a large-scale community housing project, akin to The Collective Old Oak in London, equipped with cutting-edge facilities and services. To this end, the city has continued its work to amend the bylaw on community housing, subsidize private developers of community housing, and make other necessary policy changes. Moreover, the city also plans to establish a community housing entrepreneurism support center, aiming to enhance the capability of private-sector developers, and open up a trial space designed to give all citizens and visitors in Seoul a glimpse of what it would be like to live in community housing. These community housing marketing and promotional efforts are expected to rapidly spread this innovative vision of life in Seoul throughout the population.