North Korea marks phase two of new homes project, phase one still incomplete

Kim Jong Un has pledged to build 10,000 new dwellings a year in Pyongyang over the next five years.
By Jieun Kim
North Korea marks phase two of new homes project, phase one still incomplete North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivers a speech at ground-breaking ceremony of construction of flats in Hwasong area, in this undated photo released February 13, 2022 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is celebrating plans to build another 10,000 new homes for residents of Pyongyang, even as work on the first 10,000 pledged under a capital building scheme has fallen behind schedule, sources in the country told RFA.

Pyongyang, the country’s capital and with a population of 3 million its largest city, suffers from a severe housing shortage. Kim pledged at the Korean Workers’ Party Congress in January 2021 his government would build 50,000 houses by the end of 2025, one-fifth of which were to have been finished by the end of last year.

But workers have only completed the exteriors of most of the buildings, a setback largely attributed to a two-year suspension of trade with China due to the coronavirus pandemic. Almost everything that goes into the interiors of North Korean homes, from sinks to toilets to kitchen fixtures, is imported from China.

Despite the delays, Kim held a groundbreaking ceremony to mark the next phase of the construction project. Freight trade with China resumed last month, and Pyongyang has been fervently importing construction materials, even when food is its most pressing concern, to try to get the home construction program back on schedule.

Residents in the capital are upset that the government continues to kick people out of their homes to start on the next 10,000 homes before the first 10,000 have been finished, a resident of South Pyongan province, north of the capital, told RFA’s Korean Service.

The source, who requested anonymity for security reasons, read reports in state media that detailed Kim Jong Un’s speech at the groundbreaking.

“[He] called it the establishment of ‘a new area for the people, symbolizing another era of transformation,’” said the source. “He claimed that the 10,000 new homes in Pyongyang were a move ‘toward a great new era of socialist development.’”

But the residents considered the ceremony to be “outrageous propaganda,” according to the source.

“The first 10,000 homes … were supposed to be completed by the end of last year,” the source said. “The displaced residents who received home use permits for the new homes have been living in great difficulty because they were not able to move into new homes.”

Since all real estate is owned by the state, people technically do not own their homes in North Korea. Instead they receive home-use permits, which can be traded on the open market, effectively circumventing government controls on real estate trading and speculation.

For residents who were forced to give up their old homes because they were in the construction area, a home-use permit for the newly constructed homes was their only compensation. They are on their own for lodging in the interim, forced to stay with family or friends while they wait for construction to be completed.

“They have barely completed the building frames of the last 10,000 homes due to the lack of construction materials. All the interior work remains unfinished, and they are already looking forward to the next goal of finishing 10,000 homes with a grandiose ceremony,” the source said.

“The big plan for 50,000 homes in Pyongyang in five years is going to be a huge talking point for the government,” he said.

Residents in the northwestern province of North Pyongan were unmoved by the latest groundbreaking, a resident there told RFA.

“They wonder, ‘Will the new apartments go up on their own if we don’t even have construction materials yet? Even if we blindly set a goal and add manpower to speed things up?’” the second source said.

The second source noted that funds were collected from residents all over the country and tens of thousands of soldiers were mobilized to meet the construction goals for the capital in the middle of the pandemic. And still, the government failed to complete its goal.

“It may not even be completed until the Day of the Sun,” said the second source, referring to April 15, a major national holiday to commemorate the birth anniversary of North Korea’s late founder and Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung.

The 10,000-home construction project is a major priority for the North Korean government. RFA reported in June that authorities routed electricity away from other regions of the country to keep Pyongyang fully powered so construction workers could work through the night.

Working on the project has been grueling and dangerous for the mobilized workers. Pyongyang residents complained in May that the underfed workers were mugging civilians to get money for food. Additionally, a fire in a workers’ dormitory killed 20 workers in April, RFA reported.

Translated by Claire Lee. Written in English by Eugene Whong.


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