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(News Focus) New Seoul Mayor Oh likely to overhaul housing, development policies

11:34 April 08, 2021

By Lee Haye-ah

SEOUL, April 8 (Yonhap) -- For Oh Se-hoon, the new mayor of Seoul, one of the biggest priorities seems to be an overhaul of the city's housing policy to tackle the issues that likely contributed to his landslide election win.

Oh, who is affiliated with the main opposition People Power Party, campaigned on a promise to "speedily" push reforms using his prior experience as mayor of Seoul from 2006-2011. Key among them is a pledge to increase housing supply in the capital city.

Oh Se-hoon, new mayor of Seoul, greets staff at City Hall on his first day in office on April 8, 2021. (Yonhap)

"Starting today, Seoul will leap again," Oh said Thursday, arriving at City Hall to begin his work. He was greeted by Seoul city officials in the lobby.

"Seeing all of you welcoming me on my first day, I once again feel a heavy sense of responsibility," he added and vowed to work together for change in the city and the people's lives.

For starters, he is seeking to relax restrictions on floor area ratios and the number of floors in development areas, providing the basis to build 185,000 new housing units in old neighborhoods.

An option for the mayor of the conservative party is to push for revising or scrapping a rule restricting apartment buildings to 35 floors, which was established under his liberal predecessor, Park Won-soon.

Oh has also pledged to supply 30,000 units by giving special favors on floor area ratios to residents pursuing joint development projects on shared plots of land.

In all, the mayor's plan is to create 360,000 units to resolve the housing supply crunch that has sent home prices skyrocketing and turned public sentiment against the Moon Jae-in administration.

How far he will get in realizing his plans likely depends on whether he can win reelection for four more years in office after serving out the remaining 14 months of Park's term. The former mayor was found dead in an apparent suicide last July amid allegations against him of sexual abuse.

Oh also faces tough negotiations in the city council, where 101 of 109 seats are currently held by the ruling Democratic Party (DP).

At the local government level, 24 of Seoul's 25 wards are headed by members of the DP, which could pose a challenge to getting the new mayor's development plans approved.

"It won't be easy," Oh told Yonhap News Agency in an interview last month. "But city and ward council members conduct municipal affairs based on matters of everyday life. Each district has something they want. I believe there will be room for compromise."

Oh takes the helm of a municipal government that has been led by an acting chief for more than eight months.

In that time, the city government has moved ahead with a controversial refurbishment plan for the landmark Gwanghwamun Square in downtown Seoul, with construction under way to expand the road to the square's east and replace the road on the west with a verdant park.

Oh's election calls the project's fate into question.

"I would like to ask for whom construction is taking place at a time when life is already hard because of COVID-19," he wrote on his social media account last November. "All it is is an architect's insistence that the square should be on one side, not in the center."

Civic groups have protested the plan citing concerns about traffic congestion. Moreover, the square is somewhat personal to Oh because it was built during his previous time in office.

This file photo, taken March 8, 2021, shows construction under way at Gwanghwamun Square in downtown Seoul. (Yonhap)

hague@yna.co.kr
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