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Do You Really Want to Live Here?The problems and solutions to university housing in Seoul
Kim Hee-jin  |
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승인 2009.04.28  21:40:48
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ONLY ONE out of ten students of Yonsei Univ. can live in Muak Dormitory.  In October 2008, Yonsei Univ. had an undergraduate enrollment of 16,240. Yet the Muak Dormitory’s four houses can accommodate only 1,975 students in total. Those students who fail to become the “lucky one,” and who are unable to attend school from home, have to live in one-room apartments or lodging houses near the university.  The supply of living places for students, though, is generally insufficient, especially in metropolitan areas like Seoul, making it difficult to secure a cheap residence near school. Moreover, the expansion of commercial districts near universities is impeding the development of a sound university culture with a strong sense of community rooted in the history and core values of the institutions.

  The importance of housing to university students

   It is well-known that most of the university students living away from home reside in one-room apartments or lodging houses, better known as *hasuk*. According to research done by the Housing Research Institute of Korea National Housing Corporation, 59.9% of the university students nationwide who do not commute from their parents’ homes live in one-room apartments or lodging houses, 38% live in dormitories, and 2.1% in other living arrangements.  This suggests that a great proportion of university students are greatly influenced by the costs and conditions of one-rooms and lodging houses near universities. In fact, the high costs of houses near universities can have a direct influence on students who have to live away from home but do not have the money to buy a house off-campus.

Table 1: Housing Costs of university streets in Seoul
Unit: \10,000

Lodging House
Goshiwon (Boarding House for Studying)
Warranted Monthly Rent
**Deposit Money for Lease
*Deposit Money


  Housing costs in particular play a great role in determining one’s living standard. First of all, houses are physically different from other consumer goods. Other kinds of expenditures are made only once the housing costs have already been paid. Since housing costs have a great influence over the range of one’s expenditure and habits of consumption, they can greatly affect the living standards of inhabitants.

   Unfortunately, houses on university streets tend to be very expensive. Table 1 shows the costs of different kinds of houses in Shinlim and Shinchon, which are well-known university streets in Seoul. While Shinchon is an area where a number of universities are concentrated, Shinlim is famous as the residence of a huge number of students preparing for national exams. The table reveals that, in general, security deposits and rent stand in an inverse relation: when one is expensive, the other is cheap.  Thus, even when rents are cheap, the economic burden for students is high. Considering that boarding in Muak Dormitory costs approximately 700,000 a semester (six months), living off-campus in Seoul is about two to three times more expensive than living in a dormitory.

* Deposit Money: the amount of money that a tenant has to pay as a guarantee for paying the rent

** Deposit Money for Lease: the amount of money that must be entrusted to the owner for a certain amount of time in order to rent a house; the money is returned to the tenant when the house is returned to the owner.

Problems within living in Shinchon

  Sadly, high housing costs do not guarantee livable surroundings near the place of residence. In the streets of Shinchon, bars and pubs are lined up on almost every street, bothering residents with their noise. Some unscrupulous apartment owners build 5cm-thick walls to make more space for tenants, compounding the problems with noise pollution.  Intoxicated people can also pose a threat to female residents returning to their homes late at night on dark streets. Hwang Hye-mija (Jr., UIC, Political Science & Int. Relations, Yonsei Univ.), who currently lives in a one-room apartment near the East Gate, says, “It is frightening to go home alone late at night, walking through the streets by myself.” 

  The Shinchon area suffers from an overall lack of space. In other areas, much bigger and better rooms are available at the same cost as a small and shabby room in Shinchon. According to, an online real estate market website, a one-room apartment with a size of 19.83 in Hapjeong can be leased at a monthly rent of \350,000 and a deposit money of \5 million. In Shinchon, houses with the same size or smaller cost at least \10 million of deposit money and a monthly rent of \400,000. Hwang Eun-kyung (Soph., Dept. of Political Science & Int. Studies, Yonsei Univ.), who is currently living in a lodging house near the East Gate, says, “I am so sorry that my mother has to bear the expense of \500,000 every month just because of the fact that I am living in Shinchon.” Moreover, the lack of space in Shinchon has caused the buildings to be built in close proximity to one another, causing poor lighting in the rooms. Even if the room has a window, another building in front of it can block off the light. The decadent surroundings in Shinchon and the lack of space, moreover, don’t just have a negative influence on students’ quality of life: they also affect their academic performance.

  The fundamental causes behind the housing problems in Shinchon



  Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the housing of university students was not at all problematic, since a far greater proportion of students lived with their parents and Seoul was significantly less crowded. The overpopulation of Seoul, however, has led to the commercialization of places like Shinchon, resulting in houses being converted into bars, pubs, and restaurants.  As Kim Wang-bae (Prof., Dept. of Sociology, Yonsei Univ.) explains: “Most of the areas around the main road that starts from the Main Gate of Yonsei Univ. and leads to Shinchon station used to be occupied by housing facilities for university students. However, as Shinchon was rapidly commercialized, they were replaced by other stores and businesses.”

  Although the prevalence of bars and pubs on streets is a common feature of any university street in Seoul, Shinchon has an especially great number of places for “entertainment” because of its central location in northwestern Seoul. According to Lee Jea-sun (Prof., Dept. of Urban Planning & Engin., Yonsei Univ.), people come from as far as Incheon and Ganghwa Island, making their purchasing power much greater than that of students living in Shinchon. Thus it is natural that owners of stores or land in Shinchon would target their businesses at people coming from outside Shinchon. Yet this results in a lack of basic facilities that could further enrich the lives of students living in Shinchon.

   Another unique element of Shinchon that causes the deterioration of housing conditions is that there are four universities in the Shinchon area - Yonsei, Sogang, Hongik, and Ewha Woman’s Univ. Since there are a considerable number of universities located in a relatively small area, the demand for houses is inevitably high. Yoo Mi-jung of Hansung Real Estate says that students ranging from Yonsei and Ewha to Sogang, Hongik, Myongji, and even Sangmyung University all live in one-room apartments near the West Gate of Yonsei Univ.

 Table 2: The housing costs of different university dormitories for one semester

Sogang Univ.
Konkuk Univ.
Gonzaga Hall
K:UL House
About \1,800,000
About \1,300,000
About \2,000,000

Financial and economic difficulties behind the housing of university students

   Shinchon is not the only area with various housing problems. Students living near universities in Seoul generally share some common problems, but they all boil down to the question of finding affordable houses that are clean and close to the university. The three factors – rent, transportation, and environment – that are considered the most when selecting a place to live are all, in the end, financial matters. Indeed, a lot of students speak of the economic burden they have to bear due to the costs of living in one-room apartments or lodging houses.

   Although building more dormitories is one possible solution to the economic burden that students have to bear, it is not clear that new dormitories will reduce housing costs. Sogang Univ.’s Gonzaga Hall, which welcomed its first boarding students at the beginning of this semester, has a boarding expense of \1.8 million per semester. Gonzaga Hall was built with the \36.8 billion invested by Korea Development Bank Asset Management, which is guaranteed a 7.2% annual profit during 20 years of Gonzaga Hall’s management. Konkuk Univ. is also operating and managing its new dormitory K:UL House through a BTO (Build-Transfer-Operate), and perhaps as a result, as Table 2 shows, it is as expensive as Sogang Univ.’s Gonzaga Hall. Although private investment may be an efficient way to collect the funds needed for building new dormitories, the high costs may actually be driving the students out of the campus.



   In other cases, the government’s New Town development projects are adding to the economic burdens that the students and their families must already face. Currently, Heukseok-dong, where Chungang Univ. is located, and Jeonnong-Dapsimni, where the University of Seoul is located, are being developed as New Towns. As a result, many residential streets have been demolished, pulling up the the housing costs near the universities due to the short supply.

 Possible solutions to economic and social problems regarding housing

   Despite the difficulties caused by rising housing costs and lack of financial resources, there are a number of possible solutions to alleviate the situation. Prof. Kim says, “One solution can be forming a network with local residents and the local government to give incentives to those who invest in the development of housing sites for students or provide students with housing and operate them as dormitories.” The cooperation of local residents is essential because all the lands and buildings around Yonsei Univ. are private properties that Yonsei Univ. or the government cannot manage without the permission of the owners.

  Another possibility is building dormitories or renting houses that could be used as dorms at a long distance – probably outside Shinchon or Seoul – where the costs are much lower, and operating school buses from the dormitory to the school.

  Facing the problem of reduced housing supply due to the government’s New Town development projects, Noh Sang-cheol, the head of the Student Affairs Management Team at Chungang Univ., says that his University is planning to provide the so-called student welfare houses with the cooperation of the local government of Seoul. Since it is apparent that universities cannot, by themselves, solve a problem that is so deeply entangled with fundamental social and economic problems, Chungang Univ.’s plan seems like a feasible approach.

  Seoul National University (SNU) has in fact succeeded in providing students with apartment houses off-campus with the help of the owners and local residents. Since SNU started reconstructing some of the buildings of Gwanaksa, its dormitory, about 1,400 students suddenly had to move out. The Office of Student Affairs started drawing up the plan to rent apartment houses with deposit money April last year, and the first 5 houses were made available to students the following June. Currently, 134 students are living in a total 24 houses, and the cost ranges from \160,000 to \240,000. It takes about 15 to 20 minutes by bus to get to school from the apartment houses.

  The most important and challenging task in carrying out this project was explaining and persuading the owners that a group of students will be living in their houses. Moon Byung-sun (Deputy Director, Welfare, Office of Student Affairs, SNU) says that most of the owners do not welcome university students moving in to their houses because they are often noisy and do not clean up. However, such lack of regulation among the resident students can be solved by selecting students as a team or a group with one postgraduate student in the team, who will be assigned as the caretaker of the house. Jung Hyun-woo (3rd Sem., Dept. of Physical Education, SNU) is a caretaker of a house with three rooms, living with two other undergraduate students. He says, “We made rules like mandatory participation in monthly neighborhood meetings and exchange of greetings with next-door neighbors.” The school’s daring decision to provide \4 billion as deposit money seems to have paid off, since the students living in the houses are satisfied with their life there.

 *         *        *

  It is evident that universities should have long-term and macroscopic housing plans of their own, reflecting the current financial difficulties that the students are having and the circumstances of each campus. Moreover, they should not remain ignorant of the problems that have direct influence on student welfare. Moon says, “We couldn’t just sit and look at students who had to find a new place to live due to the reconstruction.” In the case of Seoul National University, it took about a year to procure the 24 houses to be used as off-campus dormitories. There should be continuous efforts made by universities in Seoul to bring social awareness to housing problems and to win the support of local residents and various governmental agencies. Otherwise, it will become more and more difficult to form an educational and academic culture at universities.

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(2012-05-15 01:03:01)
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(2012-05-15 01:01:48)
This is a very interesting and important article.
I would love to see a continuation of this article that would include a more detailed description of living options for new Yonsei students.

Thank you,

(2010-06-10 19:50:23)
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