Written by Natalie Dai（戴淨妍）, Jessica Hsu（徐卉馨）, Sophia Lee（李昕儒）, Dennis He（何正生); Translated by Sam Robbins.
Image Credit: Photo taken by Dennis He (何正生）provided by The Reporter
Having left her hometown of Changhua For Taipei University, 22-year-old Juan Yi-Ting is entering her 5th year in the capital city and is looking for a job. She and her three roommates have recently graduated and, until recently, had been renting a house in Xinyi district between Xianshang and Yongchun MRT stations. Yi-ting says the transport links there are convenient “after graduation, of course, you begin looking for a job. Most of the job opportunities are still along the MRT lines.”
Perhaps the transport links are indeed convenient, but Yi-ting is certainly not living the good life. After leaving work, she returns home to her 4-ping (13 square meters; 140 square feet) room. There is no window in the apartment and no air that can circulate. Come summertime, the buzzing sound of the portable air conditioner is little condolence for the stuffy heat.
Her first job had a salary under 30,000NTD a month (£767; $1085), which was less than the rent for her whole apartment. Her share of the rent was 6,000NTD (£154; $217). After paying for water, gas, and the internet, “a quarter of my income is already gone; it’s like this all year round.” In the latter half of 2020, Yi-ting’s work situation took a sudden turn, and she had to rely on part-time work and tutoring jobs to support herself, which only worsened her financial situation. At that time, citing the fact that an MRT would soon be built nearby, her landlord increased the rent for the apartment by 2000NTD (£51; $72).
As an early twenty-something who yearned to make a life for herself in Taipei, she had become highly diligent with all her expenses. If money could be saved, she would save it, but the rent was always out of her control.
Rental prices near MRT stations in Taipei have shot up 30% in the last decade.
For recent graduates like Yi-ting, mostly all renters, rent typically takes up between one quarter and one-third of their monthly income. According to the Ministry of Labour, the average monthly salary for recent graduates in 2019 was 28,231NTD (£724; $1021). Judging by mean rental prices per region, if they are willing to move out to the suburbs of New Taipei City, they can expect to pay around 8,000NTD (£205; $289) a month for an eight ping (26 square meters; 285 square feet) apartment. However, if they want to live in more central districts of Taipei, such as Da’an on Xinyi and near MRT stations, their rental payments will increase almost 100% to 15,000NTD a month (£384; $542). In 1996, the first MRT line opened, and now there are 6 MRT lines and 131 stations. For renters, deciding whether to live near an MRT station is a tough choice.
After analysing 591 properties within a one-kilometre radius of MRT stations within Taipei City—by using a popular site for finding rental properties—it can be seen that the 20 MRT stations with the highest median price-per-ping are all in the Da’an, Xinyi, Songshan, and Zhongshan districts of Taipei, which are all vital transit hubs and centres of the city.
Amongst 108 MRT stations analysed, eight out of the ten stations with the highest median price were built in the last ten years and have seen nearby rental prices increase by up to 47%. Taking Songjiang Nanjing station as an example, which began operation in 2010, it was possible to rent an eight ping (26 square meters; 285 square feet) for 9,800NTD a month (£251; $354). However, the same size room now costs an average of 14,000NTD a month (£359; $506).
The construction of new MRT lines causes rental prices to rocket and leads to the veiled expelling of residents
The increase in Taipei and New Taipei City rental prices, monetary policy, mean incomes, and regional development are all interlinked. But, according to Lin Jen-Jia, Professor of Geography at National Taiwan University, the construction of new MRT lines is the crux of the matter. He has been following the link between transport development and rental prices for a long time, and he believes that new MRT lines drive up house prices first, which in turn increase rental prices.
In his research published in 2020, Lin Jen-Jia demonstrates how the construction of the MRT has shaped the demographic development of certain parts of Taipei: lower-income households have been forced to move out. Indeed, middle, and upper-middle class households have replaced them. He says that this effect is felt most acutely by those around age 30, who cannot often get on the property ladder. “As the disposable income of the younger generation decreases due to high rental prices, so will their overall quality of life.”
Tsai Ya-fang of the Tsuei Ma Ma foundation for housing & community services told us that “the amount of young people who cannot afford rent in central Taipei is on the increase.” From working on individual legal cases initially brought to the foundation, to the monitoring market rental patterns, the Tsuei Ma Ma foundation for housing & community services was born out of the “Snail without a Shell” housing movement that began 30 years ago. Moreover, they’ve been trying to promote homeownership ever since.
As rents slowly increase, students and workers in Taipei have been increasingly forced to make difficult decisions. They either sacrifice their quality of life, living in tiny, cramped apartments or illegally constructed makeshift attic apartments or leave Taipei and move to the suburbs or even to Taoyuan and other neighbouring cities.
After finding a stable job in the media industry, Juan Yi-ting decided to leave Taipei City and moved to Zhonghe District of New Taipei City in July of last year. The apartment is the same size as her last place. However, the rent is 10,000NTD (£256; $361) less than before, for a monthly total of 20,000NTD (£512; $722) for her and her flatmates.
Even on weekends, nearby Jingan MRT station remains crowded. As we walked from the MRT station to Yi-ting’s place, apartments shot up in a disorderly fashion in the densely populated residential streets. “Jingan station is truly scary during rush hour,” Yi-ting said, laughing.
When Yi-ting and her flatmates were looking for an apartment, they took a map of the MRT and circles all the points they figured could accept the rent and convenience (or lack thereof). “The golden area near the MRT is here, but we’re a little further out,” she told us, adding that their search included areas much deeper in New Taipei City. Recently, she has started growing plants near her window, and there is a new carpet installed for her new cat. In addition, the layout of the apartment was such that sunlight could enter all rooms. So in comparison to her last place with no window, she can now catch at least a little sunlight each day.
The construction of MRT lines increases rental prices, which in turns push out many residents. As a result, young people still looking for a stable footing in society are increasingly pushed out of the areas with the best transport links and job opportunities. The double-challenge of fast-rising rental prices and slow rising salaries has placed young people much heavier. “This is generational injustice,” said Peng Chien-Wen, professor of Real Estate and Built Environments at Taipei University. According to his calculation, there are around 200,000 young Taipei City renters and 300,000 in New Taipei City, for a total of 500,000 across the two cities.
The border between New Taipei City and Taipei City is marked in rental prices. When one crosses one of the many bridges between the two cities, the rental prices change dramatically. For example, Yonghe district in New Taipei City is directly connected to the lively business hub of Gongguan in Zhongzheng District, Taipei City, by the Fuhe Bridge. Still, the rental prices in Zhongzheng district are 33% higher than in Yonghe. For those who are unable to afford the high rents of Taipei City and cross over to New Taipei City, they are somewhat like camels, travelling long distance in the hope of finding an oasis.
Joseph (alias) from Hong Kong is 28 this year, and along with his girlfriend and another couple, lives in an apartment in Zhonghe District New Taipei City, with their monthly rents not exceeding 5,000NTD per person (£128; $181). The trade-off is the long-distance commute each must make every day.
Joseph rides to work on his motorbike from Zhonghe District to Neihu District in Taipei City every Day, which takes, on average, two hours. He has thought about moving to Neihu district or nearby Xinyi district, but the rent is just too high for him. “If we were to move to those areas, our rents would probably double.”
“Many of my Taiwanese friends and former classmates are shocked when they find out where I live and ask how I can bear the commute from Zhonghe to Neihu every day. I’m kind of use to it now.” Like Many Hong Kongers from the New Territories, Joseph was used to long commutes. He previously was living in Tuen Mun District, over an hour from Downtown.
Apart from having to brave the elements on his daily motorcycle rides, the fact that accidents are common on Fuhe bridge weighs heavily on Joseph. He once witnessed three accidents occur on the bridge at the same time. “There are two things you can be sure will happen every month, a women’s period and an accident on Fuhe bridge,” Joseph said with a wry smile.
Moving to New Taipei City can give young people some momentary relief from the high rental prices in Taipei City, but even in New Taipei, rental prices are rapidly on the increase. Moreover, with the expansion of the MRT in Taipei and New Taipei City, the average price increase for properties near the MRT in New Taipei is higher than those properties in Taipei, where prices have increased by an average of 26%, compared to an average of 9% in the capital.
With the construction of the orange line (which extends into both Southern and Eastern New Taipei City), New Taipei City has become increasingly convenient. Tsai Ya-Fang has observed that “Due to Taipei City Mayor Ko Wen-je’s monthly MRT ticket policy, transports prices have decreased, and renters have moved further out along the MRT lines. However, with the population push-factors created by high prices in Taipei City, rental price hikes are necessary. “With the Sanying line being finished in three years, perhaps rental prices in Yingge and Sanxia Districts of New Taipei City will also increase.”
This article was published as part of a special issue on Housing in Taiwan. You can find all articles in the special issue here.