North Korea

Plan to build 50,000 new homes in North Korean capital is running out of money


Empty apartment buildings with incomplete interiors dot the Pyongyang skyline.

Plan to build 50,000 new homes in North Korean capital is running out of money

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends the ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of flats in the Hwasong area Pyongyang, in this undated photo released Feb. 13, 2022, by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s ambitious plan to build 50,000 new homes in the capital of Pyongyang has ground to a halt due to a lack of funding, sources in the city told Radio Free Asia.

Pyongyang, with a population of about 3 million, suffers from a severe housing shortage. Kim promised at the ruling Korean Workers’ Party Congress in January 2021 to build 50,000 houses by the end of 2025, with a target of 10,000 new homes by the end of each year.

Husks of apartment buildings 50 floors or higher now dot the skyline in the city’s Hwasong area, but none of their interiors are anywhere near completion, a source from the capital told RFA’s Korean Service on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

“They completed the [exterior] frames in September. Construction started in February but the interior finishing work has stopped due to financial difficulties,” said the source. “We need to import electric cables, lighting, tiles, and aluminum window frames to proceed, and we need foreign currency to import these materials.”

RFA reported in February that North Korea celebrated the start of Phase Two of the project – a second batch of 10,000 homes in the Hwasong area–despite having not yet completed the first batch of 10,000 in the Songsin and Songhwa areas. Delays stemmed from a lack of Chinese construction materials, which were hard to come by while the border remained closed during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rail freight between the two countries resumed earlier this year, and Phase One was finally completed in April, but the problem now is that funds are running low. 

The 10,000-home construction project is a major priority for the North Korean government. RFA reported in June 2021 that authorities routed electricity away from other regions of the country to keep Pyongyang fully powered so construction workers could work through the night.

But working on the project has been grueling and dangerous for the workers, mostly soldiers who are forced to work for free. Pyongyang residents complained in May 2021 that the underfed workers were mugging civilians to get money for food. Additionally, a fire in a workers’ dormitory killed 20 workers in April of that year, RFA reported.

‘Extremely important’

Despite all the problems, the underfed and overworked soldiers are expected to complete the interiors of the Hwasong buildings by the end of December, the source said.

“This is a construction project promoted by the Highest Dignity, so it is extremely important,” he said, using an honorific term to refer to Kim Jong Un.

The central government is aware that there is a lack of supplies, but they have ordered that the organizations in charge of construction must resolve their supply issues, according to the source.

“The Capital Construction Commission directed each organization to sell some of the apartments from the earlier phases of construction to raise funds for the interior construction,” he said.

Hwasong lies on the outskirts of Pyongyang, and a newly completed apartment could sell for about U.S. $50,000. A unit with an incomplete interior can maybe get $10,000, according to the source.

There are around 25 high-rise apartments, each with 50 to 70 floors that are still incomplete inside the Hwasong area, in the Taesong and Ryongsong districts, a second Pyongyang resident explained.

“The internal construction on these 10,000 homes is a project under the absolute control of the Highest Dignity, so it must be completed by the end of the year,” he said. “Each ministry in charge of the construction is busy trying to secure funds by selling some bare apartment units to rich individuals. These are homes with only exterior frames.”

Sources said that because the government is forcing construction companies to come up with money for materials, and the companies are state-run and therefore funded by taxes, the tax burden on residents will likely increase.

This is leading to criticism of the project, as people who will never even see the apartments have to sacrifice for them so that Kim Jong Un can count it on a list of his achievements for propaganda purposes, the sources said. 

Translated by Claire Shinyoung Oh Lee and Leejin J. Chung. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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