This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
The North Korean capital Pyongyang has begun demolishing entire neighborhoods to make way for leader Kim Jong Un’s ambitious plan to construct 10,000 homes in the city by year’s end, but people displaced by the project have nowhere to live, sources in the capital told RFA.
At a congress of the ruling Korean Workers’ Party in January, Kim unveiled a plan to alleviate a housing shortage in the country’s largest city by building with 50,000 new homes by the end of 2025, beginning with 10,000 in 2021.
Construction began almost immediately after the announcement, with organizers utilizing the military to provide special brigades of laborers called storm troopers.
But before the new homes are finished, the project is actually making an already severe housing shortage in the city of 3 million people worse because it is putting thousands of people who live in the areas marked for demolition out on the streets, sources said. It was not clear how many homes were destroyed.
“Demolition is in full swing on the outskirts of Pyongyang to make way for the new 10,000 home construction project. By the 9th, they razed all the houses in Soryong neighborhood #2, sections 1 through 4 in Taedonggang district,” a resident of Pyongyang told RFA’s Korean Service last week.
“Not long ago authorities in charge of construction for the city delivered notice that they would demolish the original residents’ homes through the neighborhood office and each neighborhood watch unit. The residents complained to authorities, saying it would be impossible to find a new place to live on their own within such a short amount of time,” said the source, who requested anonymity for security reasons.
The source said that some residents who were not able to relocate before the deadline asked for a postponement of the demolition date.
“On demolition day, storm troopers dispatched to the village refused to wait, saying it was on the orders of the Supreme Commander,” said the source, using Kim Jong Un’s military rank as a sign of respect.
“Residents who couldn’t even move out their belongings from their homes cried out and protested,” the source said.
Many of the residents who lost their homes have had to ask friends and family members to allow them to rent rooms in their houses, according to the source.
“But there are so many displaced people that only a few have found refuge in other people’s homes.”
Another source, also a resident of Pyongyang, told RFA: “In Pyongyang’s Sadong district, they are demolishing private houses to make way for the new 10,000-house construction project.”
In a neighborhood called Turu, “sections #1, 2, and 3 were demolished yesterday,” said the second source, who requested anonymity for security reasons.
The second source said some of the residents were able to find housing with family members, but others were not as lucky.
“An acquaintance of mine who lived in Turu neighborhood #2 lost a precious home to the project, but he was relieved that he was able to move in with his parents who don’t live too far away. But there are people who have nowhere to get any help, and they are in a situation where they’ve been thrown out in the street almost overnight, and they are looking for even a storage room to stay in,” said the second source.
“To rent a room just outside Pyongyang it’s 100 yuan [U.S. $15] per month and 30 yuan [$4.50] for a storage room. Poorer families can’t even afford 100 yuan per month so they feel fortunate when they can find a tiny storage room where three family members can barely lie down,” the second source said.
The government has attempted to solve the problem by giving the original residents the right to live in the new houses, but until construction is complete many are essentially homeless.
“They don’t’ know when the new house will be move-in ready and the authorities didn’t guarantee a place to live in the meantime, so many have been ruthlessly kicked out of their own homes,” said the second source.
All real estate in North Korea is owned by the state. The second source said that since the affected residents are living in Pyongyang’s outskirts, it is likely that they are not elites and therefore have no power to protest their neighborhoods being sacrificed.
“The Highest Dignity declared that the construction of 50,000 modern homes in the capital city would provide more stable and civilized living conditions for Pyongyang’s citizens,” said the second source, using an honorific term to refer to Kim Jong Un.
“But the residents are angry, saying that the breakneck pace of the construction has resulted in being kicked out into the street with no place to go. They wonder if the new homes are really for the citizens of the capital city or if it is just more propaganda to tout the achievements of the government.”
The pressure to build so many homes so quickly has made construction managers forego safety standards.
RFA reported last week that about 20 storm troopers died in an electrical fire in their on-site workers’ barracks. Because the storm troopers are overworked, the one assigned to watch the building at night was asleep, allowing the fire to consume the whole building.