Recently, the number of vacant houses that are neglected or not properly managed in rural areas is increasing in Korea. Most of them are severely worn out and not properly managed to the extent that they have to be demolished. Therefore, it has a more negative impact on the security, safety, and landscape of the local community compared to the urban areas. In response to this trend, policy makers from central and local governments, as well as community members, are seriously aware of the negative impact of vacant houses in rural areas and are working to come up with solutions to the problem through various approaches. Therefore, this study introduces social and institutional attempts to solve the recent vacant house problem, and analyzes the trend of increasing vacant houses in rural areas. Through this, the tasks and prospects of the rural vacant housing policy are presented.
Keywords: Rural Vacant House, Rural Vacant Housing Policy
While demographic changes in long-term cycles such as population decline and aging in rural areas have a significant impact on rural communities, the steady occurrence of vacant houses is one of the clear indicators of this trends. According to 'a survey on vacant houses in rural areas' conducted in 2019 by 'the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (MAFRA)' of Korea, the number of rural vacant houses was 55,750, and 8,354 were demolished (MAFRA 2019). It is understood that new vacant houses are created at a level similar to the number of vacant houses that are demolished every year.
As the trend of increasing vacant houses in rural areas continues, the local communities have been experiencing negative changes such as deteriorating security, safety and scenery, and decreasing amenities. According to ‘a survey on the welfare of farmers and fishermen’ which was recently conducted by ‘the Rural Development Administration (RDA)’ in 2017, 25.6% of survey respondents living in rural areas pointed out vacant houses and empty spaces as the main causes of deterioration of the rural landscape (RDA 2017). A vacant house left unattended in a rural community for a long time is in danger of collapsing housing structures, fences, and ancillary facilities, or is being used in the conduct of illegal activities or crimes, causing anxiety among residents and being misused as a place where garbage is dumped. Rural vacant houses have become abandoned places that negatively affect the safety and landscape of a rural community.
Another problem is that the institutional conditions for maintenance and utilization of vacant houses in rural areas are insufficient. In the process of inheriting a house, a division of homeownership among children arises, or the house is intentionally left vacant with the heirs returning to their hometown in the future. Among rural houses, there are many cases of vacant houses when the cadastral land boundaries do not match or when the houses and land owners are different.
The purpose of this study is to analyze the situation of vacant houses in rural areas, and to diagnose the social, legal, and institutional conditions related to vacant houses, and to present policy tasks for the maintenance and recycling of vacant houses in rural areas. This study explores the institutional approach of intervention and regulation from a public point of view to solve the problem of vacant houses in rural areas, and suggest the direction and policy means of rural housing policies related to maintenance and recycling of vacant houses in rural areas as a public policy.
In this study, rural vacant house is defined as a house that has been vacant for more than one year in rural areas. According to the Agricultural and Fishing Villages Improvement Act (Article 2-12), a vacant house in a rural area is legally “a house or building in a rural area where no one has lived or used for more than one year from the date the head of cities and counties confirms whether it is occupied or used.” This is also the case in the Act on Special Cases Concerning Unoccupied House or Small-Scale Housing Improvement (Article 2-1), where a vacant house is defined as 'a house in which no one resides or uses for more than one year from the date of confirmation of residence or use'.
Also, this study discusses the categorical range of rural vacant house as a detached house considering the morphological type of a rural settlement. In other words, vacant houses such as township locations, new urbanized development zones, or collective housing, and apartment buildings are excluded from the scope of the study.
THE RECENT TREND OF RURAL VACANT HOUSES IN KOREA
The number of rural vacant houses and recent trend of change were estimated using data on ‘electricity consumption of households under contract for residential electricity’. According to this data, as of the end of 2019, the number of households contracting electricity for housing in rural areas is 5,222,816 households as shown in Table 1. Among them, it is estimated that 260,524 households use electricity less than 10kwh per month for one year, and the ratio of vacant houses in rural areas is 4.99%.
Nationwide, 39.9% of vacant houses are distributed in rural areas, and the ratio of vacant houses in rural areas is about 1.9 times higher than in urban areas. At the national level, the rate of urban vacancy is 2.00%, but that of rural areas is 4.99%, which is relatively higher in rural areas. Among the rural areas, in particular, the ‘myeon district’ showed a higher percentage of vacant houses than the ‘eup district’. According to Table 1, the ratio of vacant houses in a the myeon district is 6.48%, which is about twice as high as 3.36% in the eup district (Korea Electric Power Corporation 2020).
The number of rural vacant houses has steadily increased since 2010. According to Figure 1, the total number of rural vacant houses was about 155,912 households in 2010 based on contract households using less than 10kwh of electricity per month for one year, but increased to about 260,524 households in 2019 (Korea Electric Power Corporation 2020). In particular, the number of vacant houses in the myeon district increased from about 108,577 households in 2010 to about 176,717 households in 2019, an increase of 68,140 households.
The increase in the number of vacant houses in rural areas is more pronounced in the myeon district than in the eup district. Comparing the compound annual growth rate(CAGR) over 10 years (2010-2019), the rate in the myeon district is 1.22%, which is higher than 0.58% in the eup district and 0.40% in the dong district. So, it is necessary to alleviate the problems caused by the increasing trend of vacant houses in the myeon district.
According to the 'a survey on vacant houses in rural areas' conducted by the MAFRA in 2019, there are relatively few vacant houses available in rural areas, and few owners agree to demolish or use them (MAFRA 2019). The ratio of available vacant houses among all rural vacant houses is 31.3%, which is less than half of the demolished vacant house ratio of 68.7%. Among vacant houses in rural areas, the number of cases in which the owner agreed to demolish and utilize 11,920 units was only 19.4% of the total number of respondents. Among vacant houses to be demolished, the percentage of vacant houses that owners agreed to demolish was 23.7%, and the proportion of vacant houses that owners agreed to use out of available vacant houses was 10.1%.
INSTITUTIONAL BACKGROUNDS FOR RURAL VACANT HOUSING POLICY
Recently, the role of local governments in rural housing policies is being strengthened as the Korean government is implementing devolution at the national level. In this situation, laws related to the maintenance of vacant houses in rural areas are also changing in the direction of emphasizing the roles and responsibilities of local governments.
In Korea, the Agricultural and Fishing Villages Improvement Act was amended in February 2020 to reflect these institutional requests. Through this revision of the law, detailed policy measures related to the maintenance and utilization of vacant houses, such as vacant house condition survey, demolition, and maintenance projects, were prepared in detail. In this situation, stakeholders such as the government, local governments, and rural communities are searching for ways to improve the rural vacant house problem and trying to establish a related policy implementation system.
In Korea, measures for vacant houses are implemented by dividing urban and rural areas based on the law. Vacant houses located in urban areas are subject to the Act on Special Cases concerning Unoccupied House or Small-Scale Housing Improvement, and vacant houses in rural areas are subject to the Agricultural and Fishing Villages Improvement Act. Among them, the Agricultural and Fishing Villages Improvement Act revised in 2020 introduced the concept of 'specially designated vacant house' to define vacant houses that need to be demolished or repaired, and revealed the responsibilities of owners of vacant houses. And, regulations such as execution of vacant house surveyand establishment of vacant house information system were added in this law. In this Act, a ‘specially designated vacant house’ is defined as a house that falls under any one or more of the following items: (1) When there is a risk of safety accidents or crimes such as collapse or fire, (2) When there is a risk of sanitary harm, (3) When the landscape is significantly damaged due to improper management, and (4) When the surrounding living environment can be damaged.
RURAL VACANT HOUSE MANAGEMENT AND REGENERATION POLICIES BY REGIONAL GOVERNMENTS
The Jeollabuk-do Provincial Office is implementing the 'Hope House Vacant House Regeneration Project' with the aim of improving housing stability by providing rental housing for the vulnerable class free of charge by repairing vacant houses in cities and counties in the province. According to the Ordinance on the Maintenance of Vacant Houses and Small Houses in Jeollabuk-do enacted by the Jeollabuk-do Assembly, the provincial and city/county expenses can be subsidized for maintenance costs of up to 20 million won (equivalent to 17,500 USD based on the exchange rate as of July 17, 2021) per house. Tenants can live in the rental housing funded through this project for up to five years. The project consists of two types. First is a residential support type that provides housing for recipients of basic livelihoods, lower-income families, single-parent families, the elderly over 65, young people, college students, newlyweds, etc. Second is a cultural place type support that can be used as an work/exhibition spaces for local activists and artists.
In accordance with the Gyeongsangnam-do Vacant House Maintenance Support Ordinance, the Gyeongsangnam-do Provincial Office implements the ‘Shared Housing Project', which provides rental housing to newlyweds, young people, and low-income families at half the market price by repairing vacant houses in the old downtown and rural areas (Gyeongsangnam-do Provincial Office 2020). The rental housing secured through the project will be supplied by a three-party contract between the local municipality of the competent city/county and the lessor and residents. After the local government openly recruits the lessor and the residents to sign a rental contract between them, the maintenance of the house and the supply to the residents are made through the grant of subsidies. Through this process, the Provincial Office provided 268 million won (equivalent to 234,600 USD based on the exchange rate as of July 17, 2021) for a total of 18 houses during 2018 and 2019, and plans to provide additional support for 33 buildings by 2021 at an amount of 495 million won (equivalent to 433,300 USD based on the exchange rate as of July 17, 2021).
The Gyeonggi-do Provincial Office has implemented the ‘Contest Project to Improve Settlement Conditions by Using vacant houses in the Border Area’ from 2018 with the purpose of improving the settlement conditions in the border areas, which are underdeveloped due to security regulations. This project is carried out for the purpose of remodeling vacant houses or neglected facilities in residential areas to build business places or living convenience facilities, and to improve the local landscape (Gyeonggi-do Provincial Office 2020). Based on the Special Act on Support for Border Area and Ordinance on Support and Cooperation for Military Bases in Gyeonggi Province and Border Area Residents, this project provides support on a village basis for 7 border cities and counties, including Goyang-city, Paju-city, and Yeoncheon-gun. Selected villages can build business facilities suitable for the purpose of production, sales, distribution, and tourism experience. They can also implement community-building projects by improving green spaces and constructing community facilities.
INSTITUTIONAL IMPLICATIONS RELATED TO THE MAINTENANCE AND UTILIZATION OF RURAL VACANT HOUSES
The central government's rural vacant housing policy focuses on vacant house maintenance and recycling support projects for people who need housing support in rural areas, such as rural migrants and low-income people. However, it does not have sufficient policy tools. Rural vacant house information is also not systematically established. Since the platforms that provide information on vacant houses in rural areas are not unified, it causes confusion for those in need of vacant house information, such as policy makers and consumers who need vacant house information. Though information on vacant houses is provided by ‘rural settlement support centers’ in each municipalities, the level and content of information provided varies depending on the local context. Recently, in order to improve this problem, 'Gonggarang' portal, as a vacant house information platform is operating by providing GIS information on vacant houses by region, and the consultation of vacant house renovation/construction/demolition for consumers.
At a local level, regional and local governments is trying to come up with a countermeasure, but each administrative department is individually executing tasks related to the identification of vacant house information, the establishment of a database, and the maintenance and utilization of vacant houses. This approach leaves tasks to be improved in that it does not have an integrated response capability through the establishment of multi-sectoral policies to solve the vacant house problem.
Therefore, as the authority and responsibility for housing policy establishment are being transferred from the central government to local governments, local governments in rural areas also need to develop their own capability to respond to the improvement of their own living environment and residential welfare services.
CONCLUSION: POLICY DIRECTIONS AND IMPROVEMENT TASKS
Establishment of policy promotion system for maintenance and recycling of rural vacant houses by the central government and local governments
In response to current policy issues such as the revision of the Agricultural and Fishing Villages Improvement Act, it is necessary to materialize the government-level vacant house-related policy promotion system. At the local government level, it is necessary to encourage the establishment of a vacant house policy promotion system as part of rural development and housing policies, and at the government level, it is necessary to systematically establish guidelines including vacant house maintenance plans and vacant house maintenance business plans.
In the long term, with the improvement of the rural residential environment in mind, efforts should be made to come up with a comprehensive plan for the use of related assets such as vacant houses or bare land after demolition. In this context, it is possible to devise a plan to conduct a comprehensive rural housing situation survey including vacant house condition survey items to relevant entities such as village communities and local architects who are considering the promotion of the vacant house maintenance project.
In the future, it is necessary to prepare specific policy measures according to each procedure, such as the house owner's self-management of the surrounding environment (hazardous factors), and the demolition of a 'specially designated vacant house'. According to the amended Agricultural and Fishing Villages Improvement Act, the administrative order that the local government can request is the removal of 'specially designated vacant house' pursuant to Article 65-5 (Measures for 'specially designated vacant house', etc.) of the same law. Of course, in addition to the demolition of vacant houses, this Act suggests various vacant house maintenance methods such as vacant house repair (including extension, renovation, major repair, and recycling) and utilization of vacant houses. In the future, it is necessary to induce the scope of the administrative order to include the management of the vacant house itself, as well as the management of surrounding environments of the house.
In the future, it is necessary to subdivide the criteria for demolition and retention of rural vacant houses by grade. In order to improve the usability of local assets related to vacant houses, it is necessary to present criteria for diagnosing the grades of vacant houses that can be retained and used in addition to the criteria for determining vacant houses to be demolished.
Institutional improvement for homeowners to promote the self-management and recycling of rural vacant houses
To ensure that vacant houses do not negatively affect rural villages or communities, two approaches are possible. First, as a negative approach, it is necessary to prepare regulatory measures to minimize neglect of vacant houses. In other words, the Agricultural and Fishing Villages Improvement Act should be revised in the future so that the local government will forcefully impose a compulsory performance charge on the homeowners after the vacant house is removed or repaired by the authorities ex officio.
Second, as a positive approach, it is necessary to entice homeowners to properly manage vacant houses and their surrounding environment. So, we have to encourage rural communities and the private sector to work together to find innovative ways to use vacant houses and take voluntary actions to improve local problems. In order to promote rural communities to formulate long-term action plans in terms of housing environment improvement and housing well-being, local action organizations in the third sector can play a pivotal role in voluntarily solving the rural vacant home problem. Therefore, It is necessary to nurture place-based organizations and cooperations among them and to work in the long-term in terms of improving the rural residential environment, and support them in activities such as repairing vacant houses in rural areas and improving the poor residential environment related to vacant houses.
Their main role is to continuously perform tasks related to residential welfare and improvement of the living environment, such as resident management education and support for rental housing for returning farmers and returning villagers. These organizations can utilize the vacant house-related transaction information owned by local real estate companies individually and provide relay services for rural housing sales including vacant houses in connection with the vacant house information system established by local governments.
Gyeongsangnam-do Provincial Office (2020). Requested administrative data.
Jeollabuk-do Provincial Office (2020). Requested administrative data.
Gyeonggi Provincial Office (2020). Requested administrative data.
Korea Electric Power Corporation (2020). Electricity consumption data of households under contract for residential electricity(2010-2019). http://bigdata.kepco.kr/
LX Corporation(2020). 'Gonggarang' vacant house information portal. https://gongga.lx.or.kr/portal/
Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs(MAFRA) (2019). Survey on rural vacant houses.
Rural Development Administration(RDA) (2017). Survey on the welfare of farmers and fishermen.
Act on Special Cases concerning Unoccupied House or Small-Scale Housing Improvement (Enforced on February 9, 2018, enacted on February 8, 2017). https://law.go.kr
Agricultural and Fishing Villages Improvement Act (Enforced on February 11, 2020, partially revised on February 11, 2020). https://law.go.kr
Ordinance on Support and Cooperation for Military Bases and Border Area Residents in Gyeonggi Province (Enacted on June 13, 2017). https://law.go.kr
Ordinance on Support for the Maintenance of Vacant House in Gyeongsangnam-do (Enacted on October 29, 2015). https://law.go.kr
Ordinance on the Maintenance of Vacant Houses and Small Houses in Jeollabuk-do (Enacted on May 14, 2021). https://law.go.kr
Special Act on Support for Border Area (Enforced on April 21, 2021, partially revised on October 20, 2020). https://law.go.kr
 For the period from 2010 to 2019, data on the number of houses located in rural areas and the amount of electricity used in those houses were used. Electricity usage data for households with a power contract for housing is provided by the Korea Electric Power Corporation’s electric power data open portal system.
 In this study, it was assumed that the vacant house was a house that used less than 10 kwh of electricity per month. In addition, the number of single-family houses and the number of general detached houses in the 2015 ‘Housing Census’ are assumed to be the total number of rural houses and analyzed.
 Dong, eup, and myeon are sorts of the criteria for detailed classification of administrative districts in the Korea. This classification subdivides the relatively upper division of cities (si 시/市), counties (gun 군/郡), districts (gu 구/區). Legally, the dong is classified as a city, and the eup and myeon are classified as a rural area.