Chongjin’s “Mansudae-style” apartments

Pictured above (Google Earth): Pohang District, Chongjin (in red)

UPDATE 1 (2012-8-23): The Daily NK, which has been the only organization to cover the housing construction in Chongjin (see original post below), reports on the classic problem of political allocation of resources (in this case housing) in socialist economies. According to the article:

A source from Chongjin told Daily NK yesterday, “This rumor started going around that the apartments they are building would first go to decorated soldiers, veterans and discharged military officers, and then the rest would be distributed to ordinary people. As soon as that happened, a group of 40 or more people, many of whom had already seen their former homes demolished and thought they had priority on the housing list, got really angry.”

“The crowd went repeatedly to both the local administrative office and the district people’s committee to demand that a list of those assigned homes be made public,” he added.

During the protests, the source said, “Those who found they were not on the list warned that they would not stand idly by if their new homes were stolen from them. They didn’t back down from the guys from the Ministry of People’s Safety either, not for more than 30 minutes.”

The head of the local administrative office vacated his post due to the trouble and hasn’t been seen since, something that has made the aggrieved individuals even angrier. Upper level cadres are also refusing to meet them, and lower level figures are trying to wash their hands of the whole affair, saying that the list of those assigned apartments can no longer be changed. No longer thinking that the problem can be solved at the district level, the group has sent a letter to the provincial authorities outlining their grievances.

“Their point is that the authorities said that only a small number of the apartments would go to those people (decorated soldiers, veterans and discharged military officers), while most of them were supposed to go to ordinary families,” the source explained.

The source also explained the backdrop, saying that thousands of homes in the Namgang and Pohang areas of the Pohang district of the city have been destroyed since last June, and that the displaced residents from those homes have all been living with relatives and friends while waiting for the chance to move into what they thought were to be their new dwellings.

The problem is not over yet, either. According to the source, “It also looks like some facilities like shops and restaurants that were not on the original plans for an area around the amusement park are also being built, which will reduce the volume of housing available. Who can say how people from that area who’ve lost their homes will object if they lose out.”

This article is interesting to me because it answers a couple of questions I have had for some time: “What happens to families displaced by urban construction projects?” [Answer: for the most part, they go live with family members until replacement housing is allocated] and “How is new housing allocated if not through de-facto sales?” [Answer: Ideally through an objective and enforceable list based on "need". However, this process is often corrupted. See here, here and here].

ORIGINAL POST (2012-8-14): According to the Daily NK:

It has been confirmed that affluent local wholesale traders have been co-opted to support the construction of apartment buildings in Chongjin, North Hamkyung Province.

A Chongjin source told Daily NK yesterday, “The construction of high-rise apartment buildings in the Pohang district of the city is being done by enterprises and ‘shock troops’, but there are also local go-betweens at the forefront connecting affluent traders from the region with the construction teams so that the latter can get materials as needed.”

The source went on, “It seems that most of the province’s rich people have gathered here. You can tell that there are people with genuine power involved in the construction by how fast the buildings are going up now.”

Since last May, Chongjin has been working to follow in the footsteps of the Mansudae area of Pyongyang by constructing apartments for 10,000 households, including 2,000 in the Pohang district. The project is said to be part of North Hamkyung Province Party Secretary Oh Soo Yong’s determined effort to show loyalty to the regime of Kim Jong Eun. However, the Party and state lacks the power to follow through on the plans.

The situation is not rare. Rich people and brokers acting as go-betweens are actively involved in all types of construction projects in North Korea today. This was even the case when Pyongyang planned the building of 100,000 apartments in time for the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung earlier this year. Indeed, all North Koreans know that “without the go-betweens this country’s economy would seize up.”

Usually, the North Korean authorities get factory enterprises and units of ‘shock troops’ to do the state’s construction and set in place plans to secure the necessary cement, steel and other materials, but this part very rarely goes according to plan.

For one thing, factories need to be bribed if the construction sites want to get their materials delivered on time, so the middlemen have a close relationship with the factories. Meanwhile, the rich people who finance the construction later receive a share of the finished apartments in return.

Currently in Chongjin, a home on the 3rd or 4th floor of such an apartment costs about $5,000. A rich man investing $7,000 dollars in the construction of a building can expect to make about $3,000 in profit. Other floors cost $3,000-$4,000 at current rates. However, in Pyongyang prices are much higher, with apartments on the 3rd or 4th floor trading for as much as $10,000 dollars.

The source said, “There are nicely dressed men striding around the construction site checking on progress, and these are the rich folk.”

The publicly available satellite imagery of Chongjin is too old to show recent construction, and since I have no budget, staff, or connections to people who have the ability to get new satellite imagery, I cannot show you any recent pictures.

Despite the lack of physical evidence, however, I have good reason to believe that new residential construction is underway in Chongjin.  This is because I do have publicly-available imagery of other DPRK cities and towns which are being “upgraded” with new apartment blocks. Recently I wrote about construction in Rason. I will post imagery of additional towns and cities if I get the time.

Read the Daily NK story here:
Rich Traders Invest in Chongjin Construction
Daily NK
Choi Song Min
2012-08-10

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