Experts point out discrimination tied to ‘public rental housing’ plan

The China Post news staff

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Scholars called for attention to the possible problem of discrimination as the government today is set to announce three to five locations selected for building government-sponsored housing units for underprivileged people with lower income, young people fresh out of schools, and students.

Premier Wu Den-yih said yesterday that the project to construct between 1,000 and 2,000 “public rental housing” units at government-owned land areas in Taipei City and adjacent Taipei County, also called Xinbei (New Taipei) City, is nearly finalized.

The Interior Ministry will make public the selected sites at a press conference later today. Several experts and professors were invited to attend a seminar to discuss and air their views about possible problems related to the public rental housing program. Peng Yang-kai, spokesman of an alliance pushing for public rental housing and an organizer of the meeting, said that there is a misconception that building public rental housing will be able to defuse people’s complaints about high price of residence in Taiwan. In fact, Yang said, the project only bundles housing issue with other matters in the field of land, tax, and finance to challenge the existing structure for land distribution. Hua Chang-yi, a senior researcher of national land planning, also pointed out that the public rental housing project can’t be accomplished smoothly if the problems related to land reforms are ignored. Chen Yi-ling, professor of natural resources and environment at National Dong Hwa University, said past experiences showed that residents at low-cost public housing communities were often labeled as “poor beggars” in Taiwan society. This labeling problem is caused mainly by the social discrimination against poorer people and the government should solve such social problems, she said.

While helping to solve the residence problems for the underprivileged people, the government must not neglect their rights and benefits, she said. Chen pointed out that there are also relatively fewer job opportunities in remote and rural regions if such housing projects are built out there. Transportation is a major headache faced by low-income people and many of them even have not enough money to secure their transportation means, she said. Hsu Chin-yu, a professor of geography at the National Taiwan University, said that putting underprivileged people together at public rental housing communities will not necessarily create more social problems, but will make such situations more visible than when they are spread out at different areas. Many social problems encountered by these people could be neglected if they are scattered in various regions, he explained. Senior government officials pointed out that construction work on public rental housing units at designated sites can start before the end of the year.

Instead of purchasing and owning the housing units, qualified residents will have the opportunity to rent the apartments at prices lower than the market prices in the same and neighboring areas.