Rental apartments in Umyeon-dong, southern Seoul, were originally built by Seoul City for expats. However, foreigners are not allowed to live in such long-term lease housing according to the law.
/ Courtesy of Seoul Metropolitan Council
By Kim Rahn
The construction of more than 170 long-term rental houses originally intended for expats is almost completed in southern Seoul, but the city-affiliated builder can’t find residents because according to the current law foreigners are not entitled to live in such apartments.
The 100-billion-won housing project is feared to become “good for nothing.”
According to the city government and city council member Choi Kang-suen Sunday, 96 percent of the construction of 178 apartments in 10 buildings for foreign residents by SH Corp. in Umyeon-dong is almost finished.
Usually the corporation begins to advertise when about 80 percent of the construction is done. But it hasn’t started because the current law stipulates such long-term rental houses are built by public housing corporations to provide homes to the poor who don’t have houses registered under their names. Foreigners are not eligible for such rental properties according to the law, so leasing the apartments to them was impossible from the beginning.
This ironic situation arose in January 2004 under then Seoul Mayor Lee Myung-bak. He ordered houses that expats could lease for low rents to be built as part of measures to make the capital more foreign-friendly and invite foreign investment.
After the project began in April, the city government dissolved a large greenbelt zone in the area in 2005. When approved, the apartments were to be ordinary rental houses for Korean nationals but this was changed to be “exclusively for foreigners.”
The construction was scheduled to finish in 2011, but in July 2009, Lee’s successor Oh Se-hoon ordered the builder to add community facilities including a swimming pool, a golf range and a fitness center. The add-ons not only extended the construction period but also cost an additional 6.5 billion won. Each of the apartments was also equipped with a ceiling air conditioning system.
Choi claimed ordinary rental houses for Koreans have poor facilities, with nothing like a swimming pool or fitness center.
“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,” he said.
The city council member added SH Corp. will have to keep paying maintenance expenses for the community facilities with taxpayers’ money.
A city official said the Seoul government is talking with the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs to revise related laws so that expats can live in the apartments.
But Choi said, “The city should not resort to law revisions but lease the apartments to Koreans without houses. It will also help relieve SH Corp.’s financial burden.”