Before the school semester starts, the housing war begins. The best solution for students looking for a place to live would be to stay in the school dormitories. Unfortunately, the school dormitories are limited in the number of students that they can accommodate. Not only is there limited housing for the students, the price is too much to bear for some.
To take the burden off of college students’ hands, the Ministry of Land and Korea Land and Housing Corporation (LH) began to offer a rental housing system to college students in Korea from January of 2012. Out of 20 thousand applicants, only 9,000 students were qualified. Han Dong-hoon, from the Ministry of Land, said “Our intention was to help college students who have difficulty in finding a place to live, for the cost of renting has dramatically increased and we figured that it would be too burdensome for some students.” On the surface, the system seems appealing. The system started off with good intentions, but how did it end up?
Is it LH’s fault?
The reality of the rental housing system is one of frustration. Although 70 percent have made contracts with their landlords, there are still some students who were not able to find the right house. Lee Ji-Hwan, in the Department of Korean Language and Literature at Sogang University said, “The registration process was too picky and I was not able to find a suitable house in such a short period. All of the houses that I found last month were disqualified.”
Kim Pil-hyung, a real estate agent said, “There are three reasons that some students were not able to find a place to live in. First, there are not enough rental houses that meet LH’s conditions for living. There are many more rental options than jeonse houses. Jeonse is a rental system in Korea in which residents pay a rental deposit to landlords and when the contract expires, residents get their deposit money back. I do not happen to know the exact ratio, but according to my experience it would probably be about 10 to 3. Second, some real estate agents are not completely satisfied with this system, for the process is too complicated. Lastly, students try to find houses near their school. There are lots of available jeonse houses if the areas in which the students were looking were not immediately surrounding their universities.”
Because the jeonse system is about paying a deposit and getting it back when the inhabitant moves out, landlords do not prefer this system. Especially in areas near colleges, it is more difficult to find jeonse houses. Also, many of these jeonse houses did not meet the standard set by the LH. Was LH too hasty in starting the rental housing system?
Understanding of the Involved
The rental housing problem still cannot be solved even if the students find the suitable house to contract. After the students report to the LH about the house that they have found, the LH must examine the house. This examination process usually takes about two to three days. The processing period may seem short, but because jeonse houses are so scarce, time is precious. Real estate agent Kim said, “There was one time when I found the perfect house for a female student. When she got the approval from LH, the landlord had already completed his contract with another resident.” Since real estate agents do not trust the system, it was more difficult for the students. Lee Ji-Hwan said, “The real estate agents that I contacted acted as if they were bothered by my requests and they were all very unhelpful.”
There are students who cannot move into their new home even after signing the contract. This kind of problem applies to students who have contracted with landlords whose properties are still being built. The constructors, construction companies that extract profit by building, cannot complete the construction until they have been fully paid. “Of course, this kind of dispute has to be settled in order for the students to move in. However, this kind of problem would not have happened if the real estate agents were careful in the first place,” said real estate agent Kim. “It is also true that real estate agents and students can prevent such problems by avoiding making contracts at all if they foresee any potential trouble or complication,”answered Kim.
What They Have to Say
Surely both the Ministry of Land and LH were aware that students find difficulty in finding the perfect house. They have made some changes in their housing requirements so that it became easier to find a suitable house. Lee Jae-young, a deputy head in the Department of Housing Welfare in LH, said “We have improved the system by changing the debt ration of the house from 80 to 90 percent. We also changed the ratio of declared values from 150 to 180 percent, thereby expanding the scope of acceptable houses.” Han Dong-hoon from the Ministry of Land also explained, “At first, it was obligatory for the students to submit documents for deposit confirmation. However, we now got rid of this process.”
Both the Ministry of Land and LH have made improvements. However, students like Lee Ji-hwan of Sogang University still failed to find a house. “I now live in a rooftop house, where I used to live last year with my roommate,” said Lee. When asked why students still failed to find their houses despite the improvements, Deputy head Lee of LH said, “It is probably because there are many people looking for houses right before the new semester.”
Students Cannot be Called Victims
As the real estate agent Kim said, students usually do not look for houses far away from their school. It is obvious that houses near colleges are scarcer and more expensive. Suggesting students be more flexible in their search Kim said, “Students should broaden their scope. There are houses in areas where transportation is well developed. It is recommendable to look for houses near bus or subway stations,”
What Should be Done
The intentions behind the rental housing system are charming. Real estate agent Kim said, “I am sure that the purpose of this system is helpful to students. It is a shame that students who need to focus on their studies must worry about financial problems. This system, if it is carried out in the right way, can help students because the government pays most of their rent.”
But in reality, this is not the case with the government’s good intentions not being followed through. Since the new semester is coming, LH should come up with a better solution. Real estate agent Kim also added, “Supporting only 9,000 students is not enough. The system must be carried out enthusiastically and communication between the students and the LH must be encouraged. Students need to give more feedback to the LH to improve conditions of the program that will be beneficial to future students.”