“War” In Sinchon: New Dorms vs. Off-Campus Housing

Article from Hankuk Kyeongjae:

“That boarding house from Answer Me” is old news; University towns now “at war” with dormitories.

The idyllic image of students and owners bonding in a Sinchon boarding house is now a thing of the past.

The idyllic image of students and boarding house “parents” bonding in a Sinchon boarding house is now a thing of the past.

At Kyunghee University, Hongik University, even Ehwa University, debate ensures over new dormitories.

Last year if you said the words “tv addiction” you would immediately think of the popular drama Answer Me 1994. The show was situated in the Sinchon area, a university town bordering Yonsei and Ehwa Universities. The show featured six Yonsei students hailing from all over the country who didn’t know a thing about the city. The couple who owned the boarding house acted like real parents, turning the boarding house into a relative sanctuary. The couple shared the students’ everyday joys and sorrows, creating warm memories of their college years they would never forget. 20 years have now passed since then and it is October 2014. The landscape of Sinchon is vastly different. Now, students and owners of studio apartments and boarding houses are facing a problem – the construction of new dormitories. It will be hard to find a relationship between students and boarding house owners like the one we saw on the show, since now the tension is brewing.

Park Eun-Soo, chairperson of Sinchon-dong Residential Government, stated,”The school should have first had a town hall meeting for our residents, who have spent their lives feeding and housing students.”

Lee Han-sol, President of Yonsei University Student Union, responded, “There are many studio apartments that cannot meet minimum housing standards. The planned dormitories are needed in order to guarantee our students the right to housing.”

On the morning of the 29th, the “Sinchon Residents’ Open Forum for a Dormitory Solution” was held by the Yonsei Student Union and Baek Yang-gwan, also of Yonsei. The students and locals discussed the issue face-to-face. As the two sides showed no signs of compromise, the student union held a press conference the following day. They stated that, “The local residents do not acknowledge the problems of poor housing standards and high rental prices that students have endured.”

And it’s not just Sinchon. All over Seoul as universities plan to expand dormitories, they are finding themselves in bitter conflict with locals who oppose the expansion. The conflict between locals and universities over the dormitory issue is arousing bad feelings in students toward local [landlords.] It appears that in Sinchon, as well as other areas, it is showing the first signs of becoming a political problem.

Local residents protesting dormitory construction in North Ahyeon, near Ehwa Womens' University

Local residents protesting dormitory construction in North Ahyeon, near Ehwa Womens’ University

Conflict in University Neighborhoods Over New Dormitory Construction

The conflict is severe surrounding Ehwa Womens’ University’s larger-than-average dormitory construction. Ehwa entered into plans last July to construct a new dormitory that will house 2,344 students. Ehwa’s dormitory usage rate will jump 20% once the new dormitory is finished in February 2016.

Upon hearing about Ehwa’s new dormitory, Sinchon locals strongly protested. The Coalition for Construction Safety and Mountain View Conservation head (72), stated, “We knew nothing of the new dormitories up until this June. Ehwa has pushed this through behind closed doors, without a public hearing, and without the public’s knowledge.”

For those who were against the dormitory from the start, the problem took an environmental turn when Seoul government released information stating that the dormitory was to be built on an area called “North Ahyun Forest”, an area that was designated a level 1 biotope (an area inhabited by natural life).

Students have a cold attitude toward local efforts to oppose the dormitories. One such student was Im Hye-min, 24, a fourth year public administration student at Ehwa Womens’ University. She said, “A dormitory is safer than what’s in the surrounding area, and it helps create a friendly atmosphere. I can’t understand why those people who are against the new dormitories are bringing up this environmental destruction issue, when it is completely unrelated.”

Construction has been blocked since 2012 for Kyunghee and Hongik Universities’ proposed new dormitories due to opposition from local residents. Approval was revoked by the Dongdaemun District Office, being well aware of local opposition to the education board’s plans to build a public dormitory at Kyunghee University. The Kyunghee University Student Union made a visit to the Dongdaemun District Office on the 29th to protest the revoked approval. Mapo District Office has also been feeling the pressure from its residents for the past 2 years. Hongik University was denied a building permit, but has just won a case this past September to overturn the decision.

Someone from the university stated, “Kyunghee and Hongik dealt with conflict with locals early on, so Ehwa has continued on quietly with plans to build a new dormitory.”

Yonsei University will complete a dormitory that can house 379 students this coming September, and is planning to build a new dormitory for around 1150 undergraduates and law students. These plans are continually causing friction with local residents. Korea University, recently announcing plans to build a 1100-person capacity dormitory, is also coming up against opposition from local residents and a group called the “Love for Gaeunsan Seongbuk-gu Residential Coalition.”

Flyers advertising boarding houses and studio apartments in Sinchon.

Flyers advertising boarding houses and studio apartments in Sinchon.

Locals concerned about falling rent prices and disappearing businesses

University town residents are opposed to the construction of new dormitories due to the inevitable economic impact of falling rent prices and a rise in the rate of empty units. One Sinchon real estate agent explained that once construction on the 2300-person capacity Ehwa dormitory is completed, current [monthly] rental rates of around 500,000 to 600,000 won are predicted to decrease upwards of 100,000 won.

An agent said, “Since the rumors of Ehwa Womens’ University’s new dormitory started spreading last year, studio apartment leases have nearly dried up. There is already such an oversupply, reaching 20%, that when the dormitory opens there is a real possibility the rental prices will decrease dramatically.”

Sinchon’s Bongwon neighborhood (near Yonsei’s East gate) is expected to see the biggest changes in rental prices. Approximately 80% of Bongwon’s studio apartments are rented only to female university students. Within this group of renters, nearly half are students at Ehwa Womens’ University. One landlord, “A”, said, “We have 12 studio apartments and two of those are used as common spaces. We get 500,000 for each rental, making our monthly income 5 million won. We took out a 200 million won loan with interest payments of 800,000 won a month. Adding in taxes and utilities, the total each month comes to around 1 million won. So we are only left with about 320,000 won.” When Ehwa’s new dormitory is completed, rents will fall around 100,000 won, thus lowering landlord “A”’s monthly income by 1-2.2 million won.

Shop owners are also fearing business losses following the new construction. Kim, 66, runs a cleaners on a small street in Changcheon-dong. “The students will take care of everything in the dormitory – they won’t go through the trouble of coming outside to a Sinchon street,” Kim said with a sad expression.

typical university town street sinchon

The Need To Find Common Ground

All over the country, there are more than a few dormitories in urgent need of reconstruction. The government strongly encourages dormitory expansion, so conflict surrounding these expansions is expected to become a larger issue. According to the documents NPAD congressman Park Hong-geun received from the Ministry of Education audit, this year 57 of the 221 universities nationwide (26%) have dormitories that were built more than 30 years ago.

The dormitory expansion policy is a variable in the continued fighting between the government and local interest groups. In 2005 the government made it possible to construct new dormitories using private capital. As of March this year, universities plan to raise more than 668 billion won for the construction of dormitories. The Seoul city government has also eased regulations for dormitory expansion under their “Hopeful Seoul Plan to Improve University Housing.” For example, at Ehwa Womens’ University, dormitories could originally only be up to 3 stories high, but thanks to Seoul’s easing of regulations, they can now build up to 5 stories.

Newly built dormitories mean dormitory usage rates (rate of people using dormitories compared to total number of students) are expected to increase. According to recently published university information, this year’s dormitory usage rate was 18.1%, which is 0.3% higher than last year. This is especially apparent in urban areas, in which the usage rate has climbed from 13.3% to 14.1% this year, a huge spike of 0.8%.

Experts say when building a new dormitory, one must consider the pros and cons for both local residents and students alike. Professor Kim Kyeong-min of the Seoul National University Graduate School of Environmental Studies predicts that, “the problem of adequate housing for students is the more serious issue at this point in time. It’s normal now for households to consist of only one or two people, and considering the fact that the Sinchon area is located near subway stations with easy access to public transit, losing student demand for housing will not make as large an impact as [the local residents] are expecting.”

There are those who think the residents and students in university towns need to find a way to coexist. On the 30th, at the local Sinchon Changcheon Church, around 30 residents and students met to discuss the dormitory conflict. Speaking for the residents, the head of the Joseongbo Coalition suggested, “We acknowledge the fact that studio apartment and boarding house prices are expensive. With respect to the dormitory problem, if there were sufficient communication with students and universities, we could possibly lower the prices.”

Lee Tae-young director of the Sinchon Residents’ Group stated, “Residents are rightly fed up with the two universities pushing for unending dormitory expansions. Rather than hitting the locals with building these huge dormitories, it would be better to consider giving rent support to students, or setting up long-term leases”

Comments from Naver :


There have to be dorms! Student’s are broke.


Even students want to live in a safe, inexpensive place.


4 million won tuition + appx. housing costs 1.5 million + transportation, food 800,000 = around 6 million won… University students are really hard up.


Are you really saying there are people who guessed there might’ve been a lot of boarding houses back then like the one in Answer Me? You might as well say there was a real dorm like the show Three Men and Three Women.


1 million won deposit??? Done.


I didn’t know universities needed permission from local groups to build a dormitory. Keke Did you listen to students’ opinions or the student union when studio apartment prices were being raised in university towns?


It’s disgusting seeing those people be against dorms just so they can keep taking our money. May the dorm expansions continue!


The studio apartment landlords say they took out a 200 million won loan kekekekekeekekekekeke Taking out a 200 million won loan when the target market is students, they must be insane.


What right do they have to be against the new dorms? Seems like your narrow-minded selfish attitude will meet a dead-end. You confuse your own self-interest for your right.


What right do boarding house owners have to be against new dorms being built?!!! Are students just easy prey?


Wow, the dorms are a million times better than those studio apartments. For all this time they’ve been making unthinkable amounts of money. Maybe instead of thinking about your money you should try thinking about the students, who’ve come in from all over the country.


Those guys are real selfish pricks.


Those landlords… they’re too much

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