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LIFESTYLE Shared Houses Bring Strangers Together

The concept of home sharing is broadening with its appeal growing wider. It once meant temporary housing for college students or office workers wanting to save on costs while deriving emotional support from living with peers; home sharing is also used as an alternative welfare program for the elderly, providing an option to avoid the problems of living alone. Now, sharing homes by formal agreement with strangers is a new lifestyle whose effects are being felt in the housing market.

Tenants of a shared home in Dapsimni, Dongdaemun-gu, Seoul spend time in the common living room. This house run by Sharehouse WOOZOO, a shared housing agency, is well divided into private and shared spaces.

Kim, an office worker in his late 20s, is living in a shared house, or a “share house” as it is more popularly known. He has lived in Seoul for two years and seems to be very satisfied with his life in such lodgings.
How does he like it? He couldn’t paint it in brighter colors. “I like it because there is someone who welcomes me just like family whenever I arrive home. I have no idea what other places look like. But people here get along well with each other,” he said, adding “Sometimes we go out together, for drinks or for a movie. I can enjoy privacy in my own space and find emotional stability in the company of others in our own living room and kitchen.”

A New Housing Style
According to Statistics Korea’s “Household Projections: 2015–2045,” the number of single-person households in the country was about 5.3 million in 2016, accounting for some 28 percent of all households. The figure represents a more than 1.5-fold increase over 2006 when there were only 3.38 million one-person households. In a report titled “The Socio-Economic Effects of Changes in Household Structure,” the Korea Insurance Research Institute predicts that the percentage of solo households will reach a whopping 36.3 percent in 2045.
Honsul (drinking alone) or honbap (dining alone), unheard of in Korea’s gregarious culture until recent years, have become a new trend as a result of the huge rise in one-person households. Consequently, a new housing trend is also being created to fit the growing single lifestyle. Shared houses have drawn more and more attention over the past few years, alongside the growth in popularity of small apartments or officetels (studio apartments).
The demographic trend has given rise to shared houses as an option to help people share the cost of high rents and overcome loneliness and inconvenience. This reduces their economic burden because they also share utility bills, maintenance and living expenses. Once they pass a screening interview, they can enjoy a better life at a far lower cost than they would have to bear alone.
In a shared house, each person has only one room to himself. But the housemates share the living room and the kitchen. In many cases, two people share one room as roommates, with a curtain hung between their beds for a semblance of privacy. Unlike at boarding houses in which landlords rent out a few rooms to boarders, tenants of a shared house take care of housekeeping and maintenance on their own.

Bright Side, Flip Side
Another Kim, an office worker in his 30s, is living in a shared house in Itaewon, Seoul. He said, “I’ve never thought of myself as lonely since I began living here.” He reasons that it is good for his mental health to always be around other people. As many as eight men live in the shared house where he lives.
“We’ve become so close that we can open our hearts to each other,” he said. “You may wonder if it’s boring to live with men only. But it’s much better than you may believe. In fact, I can’t wait to see what lies ahead.” By living with other people who have lived different lives, he can learn many new things through vicarious experience, he explained.
Living together in a shared house in Sangdo-dong, in Seoul’s Dongjak District, male student tenants agreed that it is good to have someone around to tell “See you later” as you leave, or “I’m home” when you arrive. They feel reassured knowing that there is someone they can talk with in the house, just like their own family.
However, something good can have its downsides too. It is good to be around like-minded people. But it can be uncomfortable to live with other people with quite different lifestyles or ideas. Some think nothing of other people touching their belongings, while others raise their voice over little things.
Kang, a 20-something woman who lives in a shared home in Sinchon, Seoul, said that unnecessary conflicts are the biggest drawback of the house sharing system. She feels bad when she finds something went missing from the refrigerator or when she has to clean the house because someone else has neglected their duty, she said. Sometimes people feel resentful, leading to arguments when someone fails to fulfill a responsibility, she added. To avoid such problems, some shared houses accept only people with similar interests.
Tenants of a shared home in Seongsu-dong, Seoul have a meeting every month to prevent unnecessary conflicts and to understand each other better. After the monthly meeting, they open their hearts to each other over snacks and drinks. Sometimes they pool money and throw a party.

Honsul (drinking alone) or honbap (dining alone), unheard of in Korea’s gregarious culture until recent years, have become a new trend as a result of the huge rise in one-person households. Consequently, a new housing trend is also being created to fit the growing single lifestyle.

An Emerging Market Trend
An Emerging Market Trend With home sharing increasingly considered a new business sector, new enterprises have emerged to develop a market for potential tenants of shared homes. It was in the latter half of 2012 that home sharing began to garner attention as part of the so-called sharing economy. WOOZOO, one of such companies that came into the market around that time, is currently operating a total of 52 shared houses in 13 areas in Seoul.

Tenants put up their schedules on the notice board to prevent inconveniences that may occur.

According to data provided by the company, some 7,000 people have applied for vacancies in shared homes run by WOOZOO; more than 300 people have been accepted; and a staggering 75 percent of tenants have renewed their tenancy agreements. A man in his early 30s working in the service sector has lived in a shared house run by this company for over two years. He raised chuckles when he said, “I want to keep living here unless I’m evicted.”
Housing preferences differ from person to person. Mindful of this, shared homes are being built in Korean and Western styles, and builders are offering unique interior designs. This makes it possible for everyone to choose houses according to their own taste. Shared homes in Korean hanok style are highly popular among foreign residents.

These days, many new apartments are taking design cues from the concept of home sharing, catering to different tastes and needs, as shared houses have emerged as a new type of profitable rental property. In terms of management, security, amenities and community facilities, shared houses certainly have more advantages than stand-alone houses.
“Home sharing suits the demands of both potential tenants, who want better living conditions while paying just the same level of rent as for a studio apartment, and landlords, who prefer wolse (monthly rent) to jeonse (Korea’s unique property rental system based on lump-sum deposits),” a real estate expert explained. “It seems that the uptrend for shared houses will continue in the housing market.”
It is wrong to regard shared houses merely as a means to generate profits just because they have made ripples in the housing market. Local governments are making avid use of shared houses as part of their welfare programs. For example, the Gyeonggi provincial government is running a pilot program providing 70 shared houses for college students and young workers at industrial parks to help relieve them of their housing cost burdens. The Korea Housing and Urban Guarantee Corporation, a public organization under the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, is also operating shared houses called “Hug Share Houses,” which cater to students looking for jobs. Its first Hug Share House in Seoul’s Seongdong District has recently accepted a total of 20 tenants.
Rental rates for shared houses run by local governments or public corporations are below market value. Those shared houses run by the Gyeonggi provincial government require only about 30 to 50 percent of the regular jeonse deposit, and the Hug Share Houses program rents out rooms at 60 percent of the going market price. Furthermore, the Hug Share Houses program is also providing student tenants with job search consulting and financial support to help improve their credentials.

Housemates have a meal together. Shared housing is drawing attention as a new housing style that enables people to save on costs and develop rapport with other tenants.

An Alternative Welfare Program
There is yet another type of shared housing, purposely designed not only for home sharing but also for boosting communication across generations. One such example is the “Different Generations Under One Roof” program, run by the Seoul metropolitan government. It is a project simultaneously addressing the issues of an ageing population and the housing problem facing young people. Senior homeowners rent out their empty rooms to undergraduate or graduate students at low prices. This is good news for students because they don’t have to pay deposits and may find such houses near their schools. And for the otherwise lonely elderly, it means they can have somebody around every day.

Kim Dong-hwan Reporter, The Segye Times
Jeon Jae-ho Photographer


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