Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Flats for Foreigners Can't Find Tenants

The construction of more than 178 long-term rental apartments intended for expats In Southern Seoul has almost been completed, but the city-affiliated builder can't find residents as under the current law foreigners are not entitled to live anywhere nice.

Unlike short term rental apartments, longer term ones generally feature clean running water, insulated electrical wiring, and optional cockroaches. But foreigners are not eligible to rent long-term apartments because they are not meant to be staying here.

Legally, apartments built by public housing corporations must be offered to people on low-incomes who don't have houses registered under their names, but foreigners on low-incomes without houses registered under their names are not eligible to benefit from such public housing projects. As the law is specific on this point, it isn't clear why the city's government let the project go ahead in the first place, although at the time the project began in 2005 the then mayor, former construction boss Tsukiyama Akihiro - who is popularly known as Lee Myung-bak - said it was aimed at making Seoul more foreign-friendly.

According to a city council member, "It is wrong for the city government to use 100 billion won to establish luxury rental houses for expats, who are not even allowed legally to live in them while Korean homeless people are suffering." But the construction industry hit back, with a spokesman saying that without such projects, stockholders would suffer instead. Leaders of the construction industry also point out that in the last 20 years they have built hundreds of spacious subterranean dwellings for homeless people featuring excellent transport links.

A downturn in the construction industry in 2010 led to a delay in the already slow foreigner apartment project after Mayor Lee Myung-bak's successor, fearless anti-popularism warrior Oh Se-hoon, ordered a swimming pool, a golf range, and a fitness center to be also built in the complex. The decision was not popular, except with the construction companies.

With the national population expected to decline rapidly over the next 50 years due to falling birthrates, the construction industry says it still wants the government to support its 'one-person-one-building' goal.

Various local governments also feel it is important to continue building 'international cities' - essentially comprising of grouped apartments within city limits - where foreigners can live together in colonies away from the rest of society, ensuring that Korean residents can be protected from the spread of foreign cultures and other bacteria.

It is now feared that the 100 billion-won apartment project, which comprises of 10 buildings, will go unused.

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