“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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  • bigmamat

    This seems like a no brainer to me. The Universities do not exist to support local businesses in perpetuity. Students need housing. There will be a leveling off of students that want to live in university dorms and those who do not. The demand for outside housing will go down but universities should not be swayed by local politics that hurts students and the university. Certainly here in the US we have many colleges that do not have enough dorm space to satisfy student demand. Building more dorms also gives room or expansion of the student body. Just because something is a tradition and that’s the way it’s always been done doesn’t make it a good thing.

    • Chucky3176

      Funny. I thought you would go the other way, and say why the university is so being mean to the livelihood of poor sobbing Koreans, and not practice socialism and equal living standards for all. Surprising.

      Anyway, this whole thing started because the universities are facing demographic crunch – not enough university students. They need to bump up their revenues to stay in business. And owing and operating their own dorms will bring more revenue. Also, they want to bring in more foreign students to fill the increasingly emptying classes, and those foreign students prefer to live in dorms, rather then with Korean families.

      I think those people who are protesting, are bunch of asses. But then again, not surprising considering protesting is part of everyday Korean culture.

      • Ken Morgan

        Sounds like the UK, there is a problem though. If you put up fees then fewer people can afford to go to university and that drops numbers.

        The UK in the 00s many universities built huge complexes for the student numbers they predicted. Politics put fees up to £10K a year so students leave with £60K of debt. Many potential students were put off and student numbers in the last few years dropped off a cliff.

        • namepen

          ‘Debt’ that is only paid back after graduation and is proportionate to the amount you earn, it is basically a graduate tax.

          Uni applications have only dropped a little bit from the unsustainbale highs of the last few years.

          • Ken Morgan

            Subject to non retrospective changes.

      • bigmamat

        I’m not a socialist just not an Ayn Randian psychopath. No I’m more inclined to think local governments shouldn’t help a bunch of old people gouge college students and their families when the cost of education is already so damned high. Maybe I am being a bit of a socialist and thinking of the greater good. I certainly don’t think inadequate, overpriced, and perhaps even dangerous housing should be the only option for students.

        • namepen

          Spot on.

          I have lived in these boarding houses in Sinchon during my studies and the quality of both the rooms and the food was appalling.

          500,000 won a month was an outrageous sum for those vermin infested crap holes.

          • bigmamat

            Well the only difference in living off campus and on can mean different sets of rules outside of the classroom. Much more freedom in your own apartment. A lot of American kids will live their first year or two in the dorms then move into apartments and rooming houses later. Some schools won’t allow first year students to have a car on campus. Some won’t allow them to live off campus. My sister worked her first year and lived in the freshman dorms. She had to park her car off campus that year so she would have a way to work. Obviously it’s the US where public transportation is not available everywhere. My niece never lived in dorms throughout her 4 years away at school. Her first year they put her up in a hotel 5 miles from campus with no car. She was forced to ride the city bus. She and some girls in her “hotel dorm” got together and rented an apartment. It took her two tries to find the right “roommates”. Even here in the US we have issues with university housing. Kids get hurt and sometimes die in off campus and “Greek” housing. They fall off “sleeping porches”, out of windows, occasionally an outside balcony will collapse during a party. Since a lot of our east coast colleges are over a hundred years old and in small towns the outside housing is just as ancient.

  • vincent_t

    U kidding me? Building dorms permission from the local?
    Man, this country really has a weird understanding of civil right.

    • 금정산

      You will find that planning is a form a governance; and that considering the rights of locals is a part of a democratic process.

      Imagine you own a rural property and someone wants to build an abattoir 1km away. You know the prevailing westerly winds will carry the stench over your property, and in all likelihood, lower the value of your property. This development would probably pass planning approval because it is in an industrial zone, when your property is in a nearby rural residential zone.

      This is where you can use your civil right. You can submit an objection to the proposed development. As a stakeholder, your representation is particularly important to the development application. If you can demonstrate a significant degree of nuisance, your representation can lead to the disapproval of the development in question.

  • Look at the comments below from brainwashed Murcans: it is the right of the moneyed class to impose sanctions that deflect the money upwards from the likes of the ANSWER ME parents into the maws of a tax-free entity while simultaneously ruining the cityscape with Soviet-style dormitory blocks. Murca is also infested with unregulated drug, alcohol and rape-infested off-site student housing know as fraternity houses. Murcans need to STFU.

  • Dark Night

    Its funny how University students keep on switching between socialism and capitalism based on their personal interest. Hypocritical much?

    • Alex

      Are you serious? kkk dorms are not free either, it’s just that the landlords prices are abusivr.

      • Dark Night

        Are you kidding? First university students want their tuition fees to be halved through support from the government, instead of letting the free market do its job. But now that the free market (i.e. Universities building dorms) is in their favor, they are suddenly all for the market.

        • vincent_t

          Education is never a commercial product, the pricing shall not be decided by the market demand, and shall not be given only to those who can afford it.

          • GJM

            Vincent, if you say that in Korea, people will look at you in disbelief. The market is EVERYTHING here…its something the Koreans learned from the Americans, who also think liek that…but I know you are being sarcastic.

          • vincent_t

            No, I wasn’t been sarcastic, i was saying what i believe. I know in reality education is becoming a commercial item, but that doesn’t mean it is right.

          • GJM

            I agree with you too Vincent, I truly do — but I KNOW Koreans do not agree — EVERYTHING here must have a price tag; in fact I have heard jokes that Koreans would sell the AIR if they could…the irony is, they call Westerners selfish, self interested, self obsessed and materialistic — and yet, I have never seen so much crass materialism in my entire life as I have here in Korea.
            Sociologists like Weber, Levi Straus, Eliade et al say that human societies through the ages have always carefully scrupulously separated the ‘sacred spaces’ ( EG nature, temples, the privacy of the body, etc ) from ‘profane spaces’ ( EG the market place etc ) Here in Korea, everything is profane, nothing is sacred. Even churches look like 7-11 convenience stores; temples are full of ajumas ‘praying’ for exam success, and beautiful, spiritual natural places such as forests and sea have hawkers, drinks machines,piles of trash everywhere, and salesman trying to sell you crass plastic objects, toy hammers that squeak, ‘I was here’ beach hats, and then want to charge for so much as moving, or being there.

            As a very famous 19th century thinker once said, “All that
            is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.”

          • GJM

            Here’s another piece of the puzzle to understanding life in Korea. And it’s well worth a read…

            “Is Korea a republic of jealousy?”

            “Korean people’s jealous nature and unstoppable desire to win… When jealousy becomes extreme, it creates problems…when a person becomes famous or rich in a jealous society, he will become a target for slander and criticism. We want to shoot the person down, even though we may secretly wish to be like him. We cannot stand it if someone is better or more privileged than us… under the name of the standardization of schools..we find so many incoming college freshmen quite standardized and mediocre, rather than exceptional and brilliant…In a society where jealousy is pervasive, you cannot possibly have geniuses like Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein, or amazing, creative men…In Korea, we believe no one can or should be better than our children or ourselves. We simply cannot tolerate it…Indeed, we do not want to acknowledge another’s superiority… that is why Koreans are obsessed with winning gold medals in competitions. We tend to believe that no athletes should be better than ours, for we are the best of the best.”

            The article goes on to explain that Koreans even get jealous of retirement age professors ! “Once again, we are loath to acknowledge or reward a scholar’s lifetime of service. Instead, we resent his privileges …”

            And so much for Koreans ‘respecting the old’ –

            “..we are simply calloused toward “dated” senior professors who have exhausted their possibilities. When someone is no longer useful, we tend to think of him as expendable and discard him without due respect. “

            The article goes on, about envy of old age pensioners, and resenting giving them a pension “Our pension policy seems to reflect a uniquely Korean phenomenon: envy and punishment of those who can earn money even after retirement.”


          • Dark Night

            Uh… Education is never a commercial product? So, I guess you couldn’t afford a class in economics. Higher education shall be decided by the market, and shall be given only to those who are willing to pay for it. High school should be the extent to which government resources are allocated. Since when did university education become so common that everyone needs it? The majority of S.Korea’s current problems stems from excessive education. High suicide rate(excessive competition), low birth rate (high education costs, late maternity), high poverty among elders (expensive education costs). Also, please don’t try to say that university is expensive. I know for a fact that in Korea the majority of education expenses occur before kids take their university entrance exams.

          • GJM

            I think Vincent was expressing his personal belief and perspective, NOT the reality in Korean society, DK.
            I agree with Vincent, but acknowledge that Koreans would not.

          • David

            I am sorry, what world do you live in? The statements you made are absolutly not true. Pricing IS decided by the market, it is only given to those who can afford it and education is absolutly a commercial product (more precisely a commodity) in every country in the world. That is why people pay so much for it, work so hard for it and hold out for better jobs when they have it. Unlike public education at the secondary level, college or university level education (which deals in specialized knowledge) is all about money and what people do to get it.

          • vincent_t

            Nah David, like I clarified above, I know it is not the case but it is my opinion and belief that education shall not be a commodity which price is decided by demand vs supply. Look, I am not arguing that government shall subsidy fully to make it free to everyone, but instead of letting the tuition fee hikes as the demand rises, the government shall control the fee and subsidy it reasonably to make it affordable.

            Yes, tertiary education shall only be given to those who can afford it, and afford here shall means those who academically qualified to enroll the course, not those who can afford to pay the fee.

          • Max

            Education and medical care should be free. It’s a shame to see countries like US or UK having such business model of education. If universites are not free, only rich people can afford their studies while poor will graduate with a loan to payback, becoming slaves for the banks. What a life !

          • David

            Fair enough. I DO understand that you WANT it to be that way (I think many people WANT that) but from your comments it seemed you were saying this is how things are now, which is what I was disagreeing with. I have plenty of strong feelings about the cost and availability of higher education (I worked my butt off to pay for my college, my wife’s and for both of my kid’s, with no help from the government) but I know that for NOW they are as they are..

      • GJM

        What, the KKK are buying up property in Seoul now? Shouldn’t the public be informed of this ?

    • 금정산

      Why should someone need to be a political absolutist? Individuals are complicated and have many values, typically at varying positions in the political spectrum.

  • HaydenG

    Part of the problem is tuition in korea is far too cheap. The government subsidizes it and they need to stop. There is severe education inflation because too many students are going to college

    • WTF

      So what you propose, increasing the gap between rich and poor?

      There are countries were universities are even cheaper! The US deffinetely should not be a model to follow, it only brings larger social disparities.

      • Chucky3176

        In a country where 85% of population graduate from university, it’s sure way to poverty when you graduate from university (unless they graduate from Seoul, Yonsei, etc). Latest studies indicate those people who didn’t graduate from univeristy, but graduated from applied technical colleges who learn real skills earned more than the 4 year colleges who were unemployed and saddled with debt.

    • Balkan

      I hope you’re not insinuating that the US tuition model is the one Koreans should be applying. The education debt of American graduates is such a heavy burden that many people these days are not capable of affording a home until they’re well into their thirties.

      • Chucky3176

        No. But I think South Korea has too many universities and too many going onto 4 year programs. Not “too many”, but “way too many” compared to the OECD countries, with 85% and climbing. This is about 30% more than the next second OECD country with the highest university population. This has caused a distortion in the labor market in which too many people are unemployed or underemployed university graduates all competing for the limited number of jobs. In the meanwhile, jobs go begging in fields that require technical blue collar skills like welding, plumbing, electricians, etc. So to fill those jobs, they import foreign workers with great costs to the economy, under what is called the EPS system (Employment Permit System), where a set number of people from the third world countries in Asia are brought in every year. These workers are not allowed to bring their families, and they are deployed in factories and businesses all over Korea. So typically all the blue collar jobs are manned by them, they earn their wages and send them all back to their home countries, and don’t spend much on the domestic economy which is suffering because people are not spending their money (well, when you’re unemployed 4 year graduate living at home with mom and dad, would you have money to spend?).

        Korea needs to greatly reduce the number of university graduates by eliminating and closing the schools. But that could trigger an avalanche of Koreans going overseas to get their degrees. I don’t know what the answer is to all this.. when so many Koreans are determined to compete so fiercely for the same limited resources in such a small geographically limited resource poor country. Maybe only a reunification of Korea’s will be the only answer here, to increase the size of the pie for all.

        • Balkan

          Maybe it’s the time for Korean government to start promoting blue-collar jobs through popular culture.

  • Bryan Cheron

    Am I the only one who thinks that schools have a right to build as many dormitories as they want? Why should they need permission from local businesses? Should a large corporation require permission of local restaurant owners if it decides to move, since doing so will affect their business?

    • 금정산

      The “permission” comes from the local governing authority. It would consider the representation of the local restaurants as part of the development application. See my reply to vincent_t, this process is to actually protect peoples rights and interests.

      • Bryan Cheron

        It protects their interests, but not their rights. If the university owns the land, the decision should be theirs whether to build a new dormitory. That’s what it means for property to be private.

        • 금정산

          Well, I agree they are acting upon their rights to protect their monetary interests. Unfortunately people use planning control, (as with other legislation), as a weapon against others. However I think the benefits of community involvement and community rights outweighs this disadvantage as the planning authority ultimately determines whether their argument is valid.

          I don’t agree that owning land entitles someone to whatever action they please. We still need to live with each other and are affected by neighbouring activities. ‘Private property’ just means isn’t owned by the government.

  • Balkan

    ” You confuse your own self-interest for your right.” I must write this down.

  • 금정산

    I believe that housing is a human right and shouldn’t be abused as a business. Land ownership is a basis of our capitalist societies, for good and for bad.

    The estate agents who will lose money from the dormitory development should simply accept their losses. Property is generally a safe investment, but all financial investments have a degree of risk. They shouldn’t complain because this is the nature of the market – you need to know when to buy and sell. You win and lose.

    Universities are empire-building enterprises so don’t think that their number one interest is the well-being of students. This an investment for them as well; both in real property and student enrollments.

    As for the environmental concerns, I disagree with the public-admin student who says the issue of environmental destruction is “completely unrelated”. This is actually a large contention of this issue, but wasn’t discussed in this article. Seoul has become so urbanised and land given such high value that “green areas” are rare. The simple fact that people want to preserve these “green areas” areas means it is a related issue.

    • Chucky3176

      That’s the logically view. But in a country that over-tinkers with free market system, including forcing big stores to close on certain days, so that traditional outdoor market stores can remain in business (which by the way does absolutely nothing to help them).. don’t hold your breath that the logic will prevail.

      • 금정산

        Don’t worry, I would have been dead long ago.

  • Hwang Dongseong

    Why selfish locals think they have a right about it? I’m sick of seeing people misunderstanding their social right. These people should ask fisher to allow when they buy pork.

    • 금정산

      They have rights as members of the community, and as stakeholders.

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