Friday, March 30, 2012

Nailed House Nailed to Public Outcry

Government in bed with developers
The big news this week was the government-mandated demolition of a house in Taipei that was blocking an "urban renewal" project.... the newspapers were filled this week with indignant complaints. The Taipei Times editorialized:
A crowd gathered to watch in disbelief as police, taking their orders from the Taipei City Government, barged their way into a 135-year-old two-story building in Shilin District (士林) belonging to a family named Wang, to evict residents and make way for an urban renewal project.

People were left wondering what kind of government it is that not only fails to protect people’s property, but also evicts owners from their ancestral home.

Saying that more than 75 percent of the landowners on the block had agreed to the terms of the renewal project, the city government yesterday said that forceful eviction was a last resort and implemented it in line with the Urban Renewal Act (都市更新條例), adding that in doing so it was merely enforcing the rights of the majority.


About 1,000 police were involved in the eviction, which resulted in broken windows and damage to furniture. It is unlikely that the Wangs still believe in Article 15 of the Constitution, which guarantees regular people’s right to own property.

If the Urban Renewal Act is truly fair and in the public interest as the city government claims, why have more than 200 complaints against it been filed in Taipei and New Taipei City (新北市)?

The Wangs’ case shows how government agencies are sometimes reduced to the role of hired thugs for construction firms when the latter refuse to negotiate any further with residents and instead ask the city government to evict those who have refused to sign on the dotted line and have their home demolished.
The "urban renewal project" was actually a development project run by a private developer. The developer wanted to knock down old houses and put up the usual cookie cutter 15-story apartment building. The city government, as always, simply intervened on behalf of the developer's profits. The case bore many similarities to a case familiar to Americans, the Supreme Court's venal and amoral decision in the infamous Kelo vs. New London case.

There are innumerable cases like this. The law says that a local homeowners association must be formed to negotiate with the developer; in many cases prior to announcing the project the developer sends in people to purchase plots in the neighborhood and then be in the Homeowners Association to negotiate with their paymasters. Local authorities know that these associations are totally bogus but treat them as serious. Threats and actual violence are not uncommon, since there is only one true sin in Taiwan: to stand between a developer and his profits.

The legislature, keen to follow public opinion, grilled the Minister of the Interior about the issue. The Taipei Times duly reported:
“There were some elements of injustice involved in the urban renewal project, and some rethinking of the urban renewal mechanism may be needed,” Lee said. “I’m worried that what happened to the Wangs may become an obstacle to urban renewal, and that would not be a good thing for the country.”

Lee made the remarks during a meeting at the legislature’s Internal Administration Committee meeting, as he and Construction and Planning Agency Director-General Yeh Shi-wen (葉世文) were bombarded by questions by lawmakers across party lines who were upset over the eviction of the Wangs and the large number of police sent by the Taipei City Government.

The Wangs were the only family left who had refused to take part in the urban renewal project. However, the Urban Renewal Act (都市更新條例) stipulates that, as long as the construction firm has obtained the consent of 75 percent of the land owners on a project site, it can ask the government to demolish the rest of the buildings by force.
Other elements of the decision reported in the Taipei Times were par for the course. The building site had never been inspected by the local government for fire safety and other issues; apparently everything had been done by documents. Note how the Urban Renewal Act is written so that the developers can call in the government to enforce their will on the local community. Well, I guess it's an improvement over gangsters.

The Interior Minister's remarks were especially delightful -- the Minister expresses worry that the Wang case might become an "obstacle to urban renewal" -- meaning, an obstacle to developers making money.

The photo at the top of this post shows the irony of the government's position -- the Wang's house is annihilated, since the Urban Renewal Act was amended so that less than unanimous consent among affected homeowners is necessary to permit the developer to make the project go -- but that hideous hotel on the beach in Taitung, an eyesore visible for kilometers around the coast, which should never have received a permit and whose case is full of irregularities, remains unmolested by the government (description of the case).

REF: Blog of a local reporter who has been following the case.
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Anonymous said...

"The is not "urban renewal" as we understand it in the US"

It is the same!!!

Anonymous said...

Nobody is mentioning the role organized crime is playing in so many of these policies.

Michael Turton said...

Anonymous said...
"The is not "urban renewal" as we understand it in the US"

It is the same!!!

I've decided youre more right than wrong.

Anonymous said...

Mountains out of molehills. The other 35 households in the area had agreed to the redevelopment and have been waiting 2 years for it to go ahead so that they can move into their new homes. Instead, they're left in limbo while the Wang family drag things out. The Wang's will get over NT$70 million in compensation. Their arguments about ancestors are just excuses - it's all about money and greed. They'd previously asked for between NT$200 million and NT$500 million. If it were truly about the ancestors, no amount of money would matter.

In most other countries, there's absolutely no way a 2-3 year delay would occur. Even environmentally significant or heritage claims usually get sorted out in less time than that where development is due to occur. The Wang's have been treated extremely well here and should be thankful they were given so much time.

Michael Turton said...

Anon at 10:09, way to totally miss the point and, as a special bonus, provide slanted information! Yeah!

Anonymous said...

If by slanted information you mean the stuff the Taipei Times didn't bother to report because it weakens their argument, then guilty as charged.

Michael Turton said...

No I mean the stuff you didn't bother to look up because your ideological commitments outweigh your commitment to your own intellectual integrity. Not that one can expect intellectual integrity from trolls.

I know it may bring you into contact with the kind of bloody reality that may conflict with the purity of your ideological madness, but try checking the link above.


Unknown said...

I just wonder how a 135 year old house doesn't get renewed by the government and is treated like an historical site???? Come one, they have national monuments that were built in the 60's....

Michael Turton said...

If only CKS had slept there, it would have become a shrine...

Shawn @SIDONIEYANG said...

What is the difference between 1,000 police officers and 1,000 black-shirted gangsters? Oh yeah, the police officers can call for even more back-up!

This ridiculous real estate bubble will pop very, very soon... and then, bully real estate developers will lose their shirts (and their pants) and those with unfinished (i.e. unsold) projects will know how these homeowners feel.

When real estate "investment" frenzy is finally off of the people's minds... ridiculous things like this can stop happening... people can stop thinking about this waste-of-time "investment strategy"... and money can be invested in something actually worthwhile.

Stefan said...

Hmmm. Minor point, but if the developers buy enough of the homes to get 75% of the homeowners to agree, then still 75% of the homeowners have agreed. Selling to the developers is a way to consent to their plans, isn't it?