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Gangnam bashing

May 10,2019
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On Tuesday, Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport Kim Hyun-mee announces a new plan for a large-scale redevelopment around the capital area. [YONHAP]
Yi Jung-jae
The author is a columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.


When a reporter asked about the lack of measures to meet the housing demand in Gangnam, southern Seoul, in the government’s latest housing supply outline, Land and Transport Minister Kim Hyun-mee smugly responded, “Do you like Gangnam [that much]?” In the press conference Tuesday unveiling a government plan to build an additional 110,000 residential units in 28 locations, including two new towns, near Seoul, she said, “It is the ministry’s role to ensure everyone is happy wherever they live.” A slip of tongue can reveal the inner thoughts of a person. Kim’s sarcastic comment about Gangnam underscores her distrust toward the rich and certain classes.

Kim has not hidden her bias toward people living in the posh neighborhoods of Gangnam. The districts with the persistent sky-high housing prices had been the main target in adjusting the assessed value of housing. The move to rationalize the housing valuation closer to the real-world prices affected the “expensive ones” more, the ministry admitted. It told owners of homes in the provinces or outside Seoul “not to worry” as home valuations in those areas had been untouched or even lowered. The ministry more or less confessed that the revaluation mainly targeted the expensive apartments in Gangnam to collect more taxes.

Realtors suspect that the purpose of all real estate efforts by the liberal administration have the single “Gangnam-bashing” purpose. Kim vowed “a war with speculative forces” upon inauguration. She sees speculative forces behind any interest in owning a home in Gangnam. The government bombards the area with regulatory measures and taxes as it is seen as the hotbed for speculation. She directly asks homeowners to sell homes they do not actually occupy. Kim owns two homes. But she thinks multiple-home ownership is OK as long as the home is not located in Gangnam. Such phobia may have been behind her repulsive question to the reporter, “Do you like Gangnam?”

Kim is not alone in prejudice against Gangnam homeowners. Jang Ha-sung, the former presidential policy chief, said, “I had lived in Gangnam, so I can say that not everyone should live in Gangnam.” His comment drew a warning from Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon, who advised “discretion” in commenting on sensitive topics like housing prices. Jang’s home in Gangnam earned 500 million won ($424,000) in a year after the prices soared.

Although it criticizes Gangnam-bashing campaigns, Land Ministry officials also prefer to live in the area. According to the disclosure of assets by high-level government officials, two out of seven in the ministry owned two homes. The other five owned one — but all in the three favorite Gangnam districts — Seocho, Gangnam and Songpa. Their “clever” single homes were all located in the three Gangnam districts famous for super-high prices with the best schools and environments.

I wonder whether Minister Kim posed the same question — “Do you like Gangnam? — to her senior officials in the ministry.
I have never lived in the three Gangnam districts. In fact, I cannot afford a home in Gangnam. I also envy friends living there. But I collect myself because that’s beyond my means. Minister Kim should know that her disparaging comments about Gangnam are hurting the people who cannot dream of living in Gangnam more than those who live or can afford to live there. The reporter would not have asked the question because of a desire to own a Gangnam home.

I advise her to rephrase her thoughts or questions this way next time. “Do you want to become rich?“ or “Do you like money?” or “Do you like the United States?” would be a more honest question. How would she feel if she had been asked, “Do you like being a leftist minister?”

And what about this question, “Do you like North Korea [that much]?” as she had been most eager about inter-Korean rail projects and made a trip to Poland herself to pitch the government’s vision on the East Asian rail project, although it was not a ministerial level meeting.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 9, Page 30