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Land Minister nominee apologizes for past remarks at hearing

Byeon vows to supply more homes in station areas, agrees with ‘one home per household’

Land Minister nominee Byeon Chang-heum takes his oath of office at a confirmation hearing held at the National Assembly on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
Land Minister nominee Byeon Chang-heum takes his oath of office at a confirmation hearing held at the National Assembly on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
Land Minister nominee Byeon Chang-heum repeatedly apologized for controversial past remarks after being blasted by opposition lawmakers at his confirmation hearing Wednesday. He also pledged to supply more homes in station areas to address housing shortages.

At the parliamentary confirmation hearing, lawmakers from the opposition party called for the nomination of Byeon, CEO of the state-run housing developer Korea Land & Housing Corp., to be withdrawn, saying he does not have “the minimum dignity as a human.”

At the center of the criticism is what he had said about a young engineer surnamed Kim who was killed while repairing a screen door at the subway platform of Guui Station in Seoul in 2016. While serving as president of the Seoul Housing & Communities Corp., Byeon was found to have said, “It’s really nothing. If the guy had paid a little bit of attention, nothing would have happened.”

At the hearing, Byeon repeatedly apologized to Kim and his family, and promised to make more thorough policy efforts on safety issues by putting more importance on the lives of the people.

“We will take special measures to improve the working conditions of subcontract workers and specially employed workers working at dangerous labor sites,” he said.

Criticism was also raised concerning his daughter’s volunteer work, which is necessary to enter elite specialized schools.

Rep. Kim Sang-hoon of the People Power Party said her volunteer activities were done in civic groups in which Byeon and his spouse were closely connected, raising suspicions she might have received special benefits.

Byeon responded, “The allegation is not true at all.” He added that his daughter did not use the activity for the entrance application, and she ultimately failed to enter the school she had applied for.

The nominee also received questions about the nation’s lingering problems in the housing market.

When Rep. Park Sang-hyuk of the Democratic Party of Korea asked how to supply housing in downtown Seoul, Byeon said the city could expand the housing supply by raising the floor space ratio of the station area to 300 percent.

“Many people think that there will be no more places to develop in Seoul. And this makes people overbuy now,” he said.

“However, there are still areas to develop in the station area, semi-industrial area, low-rise residential area. There are 307 subway stations in Seoul alone, and if the station area is set at 500 meters, it will be almost half the area of Seoul.” Currently, the station area is set at 350 meters in radius.

“Currently, the density of the station area is only 160 percent. But, the floor space ratio can be raised up to 300 percent. This way, more cheap and good houses can be supplied.”

The nominee also said he agreed with the intent of the recent bill “one home per household,” proposed by the ruling Democratic Party of Korea. The bill that requires one household to own only one house is currently being criticized as a “socialist idea” from the opposition party.

“I didn’t take a close look at the bill itself,” he said. “I understand that the act was proposed with the aim of supporting all people to have housing.”

By Shin Ji-hye (shinjh@heraldcorp.com)
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