[2012] Mayor’s Speech

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  • Housing is a human right

    SMG 635
  • Press conference to address New Town redevelopment issues

    Date: January 30, 2012
    Venue: Briefing Room, Seosomun Building, Seoul City Hall

    Dear Seoul citizens, I have come here today with determination at the most difficult moment I have experienced since I was inaugurated as mayor.

    Today, we look back on the 40 years of redevelopment and 10 years of New Town developments that led Seoul to become a hotbed of speculation and construction sites. As such, we need to urgently address the New Town issue. We must also renew our resolve and draw up a blueprint for the new era of residential renewal projects.

    With 1,300 New Town redevelopment project sites, Seoul has become a mess. How have we come to this? What is the goal and who are the beneficiaries of the New Town project? What have we lost and gained as a result?

    Much like killing the goose that lays golden eggs, many politicians made commitments to carry out New Town projects in order to win votes. Landlords, speculators, and even individuals encouraged them. Pursuing the dream of making a quick fortune, the whole nation—and Seoul in particular—was swept up in a powerful craze of speculation. The central and local governments, which are responsible for mitigating such situations, failed to fulfill their roles. Therefore, politicians, administrators, and speculators alike should reflect on this.

    In retrospect, during the past four decades, these large housing projects required painful sacrifices to be made for the sake of “development” and “growth”. Especially, the projects demanded sacrifices on the part of the underprivileged members of our society, forcing poor landlords and tenants to give up their rights to housing and their livelihoods. Only the large land owners and successful investors and supporters benefitted. Though the residents’ homes may have been old and uncomfortable, they had lived there from generation to generation, together with their neighbors. But they were forced out of their homes regardless. The New Town redevelopment projects initiated by huge capital and powerful landlords forced poor landlords and tenants to move to even lower quality residential areas than before. Furthermore, the irregularities in the process of obtaining consent in each phase of the projects, conclusion of written resolutions, and holding of general meetings were already deeply established, chronic, and thus incurable. By using so-called OS (outsourced) personnel, those involved tried to bribe union members who had limited access to information and lacked proper judgment. They hired agents to forcibly remove poor residents who had no other options and demolish their homes, and they applied great pressure at the general meetings on the pretext of maintaining law and order, thereby blocking the free expression of opinions. And these are only a few of the numerous problems.

    What have we gained and lost through this New Town redevelopment project? Residents were removed from their homes by speculators and investors, causing them to become “urban refugees”. Neighborhood communities were dismantled, and small businesses completely disappeared. And with the removal of low-cost housing units for less privileged citizens, the cost of renting homes near their old neighborhoods has soared. In the end, in return for the disgrace of becoming a “Republic of Apartment Complexes,” we have let so many of our values be destroyed. We believed we were achieving growth, but it was only greed.

    Since I became mayor, I have spent three months visiting every corner of these redeveloped neighborhoods, hearing so many heartbreaking stories wherever I went. In the redeveloped areas of Imun-dong, Mullae-dong in Yeongdeungpo-gu, and the flophouse in Dapsimni, people—including grandparents and grandchildren—were living in spaces so narrow that they couldn’t lie down comfortably. I saw so many citizens that our society should have embraced; however, now they are going to be evicted from their homes due to the New Town redevelopment projects. They have nowhere to go. If I could, I would put everything back the way it was before the redevelopment projects were launched.

    My fellow citizens, I know that you have endured considerable pain. And as I am responsible for this city’s administration, I extend my deepest apologies for the pain and sorrow you have endured as a result of the New Town redevelopment project.

    I have thought deeply about this issue and continued to research the factors involved, and I found that we face considerable legal obstacles.

    I met many people from various walks of life, and talked with them and asked for their advice. I have searched for every possible solution within our reach. However, there is no option that can satisfy everyone. Here, again, I am sorry for my inability to find a solution.

    But this is not the end; it is only the beginning. Until we remove all of the pain caused by the New Town projects, I will employ all available means and resources to find solutions.

    For me, the past three months felt like three years. Through extensive communication and numerous discussions with countless people, I have developed a greater understanding of the situation, sought solutions to the issue, prepared a framework, and convinced the National Assembly and the government to accept the system. I have also listened to the heads of the gu offices outline the pros and cons of the situation and the solutions. Finally, at the end of last year, I established a legal framework—a small but meaningful step.

    The Seoul Metropolitan Government has prepared this framework and determined the direction we must take to solve the New Town redevelopment issue. First of all, while investigating the status of the situation, we will work to mediate any conflicts and share responsibility with the heads of gu offices, which are familiar with the local circumstances. The decision as to whether the New Town project should continue or be scrapped will be made only after we have sufficiently reflected on the residents’ opinions.

    So far, the New Town redevelopment projects have been implemented without accurate information, such as details on the extent of individual contributions required by the project. Therefore, we will first have a survey agency conduct an objective on-site investigation of 610 neighborhoods, including those still in the planning phase and those where redevelopment unions have already been organized. We will also investigate all 866 redevelopment projects that are currently underway in order to identify and resolve any existing or potential conflicts. The investigation will be led by the mayor of the Seoul Metropolitan Government and the heads of the gu offices. Depending on whether a project owner exists and on the extent of responsibility and authority, different roles will be assigned. The investigation process will be objective and transparent, and opinions will be collected in a fair and open way. After the results of the investigation have been fully disclosed, and if a majority of the residents still desire it, the project will continue.

    We will ensure that redevelopment is carried out with proper administrative support and improved systems, and we will reinforce public project management and reform the system so as to protect poor landlords and tenants. In areas that choose to continue with the projects, the tenants’ right to housing must be guaranteed. Particularly underprivileged tenants who lacked sufficient legal protection and were unable to benefit from the government’s protection measures will be supplied with public rental housing. And the cost of rent will be similar to that of permanent rental apartment housing. To help tenants return to their own neighborhoods, they will be provided temporary housing in a nearby redevelopment area, and when the redevelopment of their neighborhood is completed, they will be allowed to move into rental housing in the same area they had lived before. In addition, during winter and in poor weather conditions, residents will not be made to move out of their homes and demolition work will not be carried out. Furthermore, the opinions and ideas of poor landlords and tenants, who have so far been excluded from the discussions and negotiations regarding New Town redevelopment projects, will be actively incorporated into the project planning process. If the majority of residents disapprove, the projects will be scrapped, and if residents wish, their districts will carry out a community building project as an alternative. The Seoul Metropolitan Government will assist with the installation of infrastructure, such as public facilities, provide loans, and lend administrative support for housing repair, village making, and small-scale maintenance work.

    Also, we will effectively manage all conflicts throughout the entire process. Conflicts revealed through on-site investigations and problems discovered while collecting residents’ opinions or during the decision-making process regarding the scrapping of the New Town project will be addressed and resolved by a soon-to-be-established housing rehabilitation support center. Moreover, the conflict mediation committee has already begun its operations.

    However, at this moment, it is regrettable that we still face considerable limitations. In particular, we do not have any provision that provides for the cost of dissolving unions. This is expected to cause new conflict, but we do not have any alternative. The politicians and the central government, who should be taking more responsibility for these matters, are saying that all expenses should be borne by local governments. The most urgent measure for tenants and commercial areas is still far from complete.

    I, as head of the Seoul Metropolitan Government, strongly urge politicians and the government to share this responsibility with us. You must share your financial resources with local governments and jointly develop various alternative models. In particular, the government and National Assembly should become actively involved and finalize the incomplete content in the relevant laws revised late last year.

    In addition, the opinions of tenants should be reflected in the redevelopment area designation phase, and project plans should be established. To ensure that the livelihood of retail shop tenants is not threatened, reasonable compensation packages need to be prepared. In the event a project owner goes bankrupt, part of the expenses incurred should be borne by the central government, instead of just passing the buck to a local government. I submit this request to the government and the president. Any further issues not yet dealt with will be addressed by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, and revised legislation will be prepared and submitted to the National Assembly by May, when the new session is scheduled to convene.

    The Seoul Metropolitan Government reaffirms that “Housing is a Human Right!” As such, the previous New Town redevelopment projects, which focused solely on producing returns for investors, will be transformed into projects that focus on “housing and the people”.

    The Seoul Metropolitan Government will no longer have any policy that promotes the supply of housing through complete demolition and redevelopment practices. New policy will be drawn up and implemented—policy that aims to manage housing in order to protect residents and restore neighborhood communities and places top priority on the people. The Seoul Metropolitan Government, central government, local districts, construction companies, developers, and unions, which are all responsible for the current situation, should apologize and reflect on their actions. Furthermore, they are expected to make concerted efforts to resolve the problems they have caused.

    I would like to repeat that as long as I am mayor, the past development practices based on complete demolition will be totally eliminated. Instead, urban renewal will be pursued as a means of building sustainable residential communities where the rich and poor and the past and present exist in harmony.

    As long as I lead Seoul, I will not let any resident burst into tears due to a surprise demolition on a winter night. While I serve you as mayor, there will be no more designations of New Town redevelopment areas. Thank you. 

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