Residents stall dorm construction
Students fall victim in conflict between schools, landlords
An effort to provide affordable housing for university students faces obstruction from local residents.
President Moon Jae-in pledged to build 30,000 more dormitory rooms nationwide by 2022, as students are burdened with not only tuition but also hefty housing costs.
Data shows existing dormitories in Seoul and Gyeonggi Province accommodate only 15 percent of the student demand. Those cannot be accommodated in the dorms have to resort to pricy rental options.
Monthly rent for studio apartments in Seoul cost around 500,000 won ($444). The average monthly cost for dorms offered by state and private universities, as well as government-run institutions, is 200,000 won.
Landlords in university neighborhoods are leading the opposition against new dorms. Other residents are also protesting due to unfavorable changes to their environment, as well as safety risks and the harmful influence of more college students.
In 2014 Korea University initiated a plan to build a 1,100-person dormitory in Seongbuk-gu, northern Seoul, but has not seen any progress due to community resistance.
Because the site is located within an area designated as a city park, it needed to submit a request to Seongbuk-gu Office for approval.
“The process has been halted because the school needs to collect more resident opinions on the case,” a Seongbuk-gu official said.
He pointed out that a park is a public facility used by all residents but a dormitory is only used by certain individuals.
“If opposing voices outweigh supporting ones, this may result in the plan getting scrapped,” he said.
A dormitory construction plan is also pending at Hanyang University in Seoul.
“Complaints f rom landlords have flooded in, stating their liveli- hoods will be endangered, but we cannot take any sides on the issue — procedures will be taken according to the law,” the official said.
However, local authorities’ hesitance to approve dorm construction plans is seen as concerns over losing residents’ support in elections.
The state-run Korean Student Aid Foundation (KSAF) also drew up plans to set up a dorm in Seongdong-gu, eastern Seoul, but is facing backlash from residents.
“We are discussing the issue with the district office, but procedures have been slowed down due to residents’ complaints,” a foundation official said.
According to the official, residents have cited “safety concerns” such as college students committing crimes, and the planned building ruining their view. There have also been many complaints from landlords in the area, he said.
“However, our dormitory will house those of the low-income bracket, who spend several hours commuting to school because they cannot afford to live in studio apartments in the area anyway.”
The official said the foundation, together with local authorities, will attempt to host discussions with residents on the issue, and build facilities for them together with the dormitory.
Plans of the Korea Foundation for the Promotion of Private School to open a dormitory accommodating 750 students in time for the spring semester next year has been pushed back by at least two years, due to community opposition.
Residents fought against the construction, citing that young students of an adjacent elementary school would be exposed to not only safety risks in the construction process, but also adverse influences of college students’ promiscuity, drinking and smoking in the area.
It received construction approval from local authorities in February and is set to select the construction company.
“The dorm is set to open in the spring semester of 2020,” an official said.
Student councils of Korea, Hanyang and Kyung Hee universi- ties held a protest in front of City Hall earlier this month, demanding to speak with Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon.
“The average rent of a room near 10 major universities in Seoul rose by 50,000 won this year to 500,000 won,” the students said.
“Students need to work part-time jobs while doing assignments and studying in order to pay their rents.”
The conflict over college dorm constructions is not limited to Seoul.
For schools in provincial areas, having a new dormitory serves to attract students from other areas.
Hyejeon College in Hongseong, South Chungcheong Province, recently unveiled plans to build a dormitory accommodating 300 students.
Because existing facilities cannot meet student demand, the school is renting studio apartments nearby.
It received construction approval from local authorities earlier this month, but landlords in the area are opposing the plan, citing a high vacancy rate even under the status quo.
The landlords are calling for the schools to rent the rooms they own instead of building a new dormitory.
“Local government officials cannot ignore the complaints of residents as they need to win votes,” the KSAF official said. “At the end of the day, students fall victim to the conflict.”
Local government officials cannot ignore the complaints of residents as they need to win votes.
College students protest in front of the Dongdaemun-gu Office in eastern Seoul, demanding it approve the construction of a dormitory, in this file photo.