Jiokgo is newly coined term young adults in Korea use to describe the country’s housing problem. The term is a combination of three words, Jiha (semi-basement home), Oktapbang (rooftop house) and Gosiwon (low-cost, cocoon-like accommodation rented mostly by students studying for difficult state and bar exams) and it implies the hardships and poor housing conditions young people are living in. Coincidently, the term also happens to sound similar to the word, Jiok which means ‘Hell’ in Korean. As a solution to this housing problem and with the spreading of the co-living culture, share houses have recently become increasingly popular. These economically less burdensome houses that could also enhance the quality of life, are expected to become a new lifestyle of the future.
Young Adults in Their 20s and 30s That Have No Where to Go
1 out of 3 young adult households living in Seoul live in substandard living accommodations referred to as Jiokgo. It is a serious problem because shelter is one of the most important, basic human needs. Only 10％ of young adults in their 20s to 30s live in homes they own and the rest live paying monthly rents. According to a survey conducted by Korean real estate application Dabang, the average monthly rent for studio apartments in Seoul is around KRW 550 thousand. This could be quite a lot for university students and young adults just entering into the real world with unstable jobs and unstable income. People also have to give the landlord a large sum of “key money” which is around KRW 10 million even for those tiny apartments. Because of these problems, many young adults involuntarily choose to live in even poorer living conditions. Because they are spending most of their income to pay monthly rents, it become impossible for them to improve their living conditions. Future planning becomes meaningless and they become trapped in housing deprivation. Since, these substandard living accommodations’ quality is so low compared to their costly monthly rents, they are not a place to rest and relax but a place only for sleeping.
According to Statistics Korea, the number of single-person households is growing sharply and by 2047, single-person households will make up 37.3％ of all households in the country. The 21st Korean Labor & Income Panel Study showed similar results. The number of single-person households continued to grow over the past decade. Single-person households were mostly made up of young adults 15 to 29 years of age and their share spiked sharply from 14.1％ to 80.7％ just over a decade from 2009 to 2018.
The Growing Trend of Share Houses
A new type of accommodation called share houses are going in popularity as the solution to various housing-related problems such as the growing number of single-person households, costly key money and monthly rents and poor conditions young adults are living in. Share houses literally are homes that can be shared and they enable you to live in a real, home-like home even if you don’t have a large sum of money. “Share houses reduce the burden of costly key money on young adults and allow them to live in a better condition at a reasonable monthly cost” explains Ahyeon Lee who is the vice president of Woozoo which has grown into the nation’s largest shared housing company that runs about 200 share houses from a small share houses that opened in 2012. The basic goal of Woozoo is to provide people a pleasant living environment with the minimum of inconvenience and maximum of benefits of living together with other people. Woozoo not only offers a place to live but it also offers various services including monthly cleaning and disinfection service, AC filter replacements, water purifier maintenance, periodical house maintenance and repairs as well as general customer service for handling any inconveniences the residents might experience.
The shared housing market in Korea is skyrocketing. New shared housing companies like Common Town, Borderless House and CO. T. ABLE as well as many shared housing platforms have entered the market. Real estate platform Jigbang which took over Woozoo also entered the market. Hanhwa Life Insurance Company started running a share house called ‘Share Haus’ to support housing to designers, creators and developers and many other major corporations are seriously taking interest in the concept of shared housing. The Korean government has also recently started providing share houses as part of its policy to support housing to young adults. Seoul Metropolitan City is also in the process of building the nation’s first large-scale apartment-type share house complex. It is said that the rent for Seoul Housing and Communities Corporation apartment-type share houses in the Godeok-Gangil Residential District estimated to be completed in 2024, would be only 90％ of the market price. Since 2018, Busan Metropolitan City also has been leasing ‘Busan Share Houses’ to university students, young adults who have just entered the real world and young adults preparing to start a business. Local governments like Gokseong County and Wanju County also provide share houses to young adults suffering from housing shortage and deprived of housing.
A Place for Sharing Lives
The Millennials are used to the culture of sharing and not owning. They are not afraid to share spaces and even lives. They want to enjoy their independent lives but they also do not want to be alone. They see share houses as an opportunity to meet different people and broaden their perspectives. “Share house residents develop emotional connections with each other. They also enjoy sharing different interests as a community” explains Woozoo Vice President Ahyeon Lee. Shared housing company Woozoo, in the beginning, tried running themed share houses like ‘A House for Travelers’, ‘A House for Those Who Love Cooking’ and ‘A House for Cinephiles’ but not it just focuses on providing truly homey homes. Vice President Ahyeon Lee says that although the residents do not prioritize the community, they naturally start socializing with each other and develop a sense of community by themselves. As we have indirectly experience shared housing through reality TV shows like and , shared housing is more about sharing emotions. Many residents living in share houses actually say that the fact that they’re living with other people gives them comfort.
Share houses are in fact not a completely novel type of housing to Koreans. A type of boarding house called Hasukjib which is commonly used by university students has existed in Korea for many years. After the 2000s, the lack of privacy in Hasukjib led people to turn to studio apartments and Hasukjib became almost obsolete. Share houses fit those who need and value privacy even living together with other people. Residents share the living room, kitchen and bathrooms but they get to have their own room just for themselves. Shared housing also matched the growing consumption trends like ‘separately and together’ and ‘cheaper together’. Shared housing today is also different from similar forms of shared housing in the past in that today, share houses are operated more professionally and on a corporate scale.
The Era of Single-Person Households
As mentioned earlier, it seems like the growing share of young adults in single person households is inevitable and natural considering many housing-related problems in today’s society. But an interesting change that’s happening today is that the share of senior citizens over the age of 65 in single-person households is also growing. The percentage of senior citizens in single-person households is about twice that of people 30 to 64 years of age. In the near future, the housing problem of senior single-person households will become serious as well. While young adults consider the accessibility to work, schools and cultural facilities when choosing a share house but older people might prioritize the environment that allows them to emotionally connect with others. Shared housing is also a global trend. It is especially popular in Northern Europe. Single-person households make up more than half of every age group and the percentage of single-person households is already over 40％ in Denmark, Finland and Germany. Korea has socially changed significantly over the past decade and the percentage of single-person households will soon exceed 50％.
Why Share Houses?
The shared housing culture started quite early overseas. It started growing first in major cities like London, New York and San Francisco where the cost of living is terribly high. Now, share houses are everywhere and they are not just houses but are evolving into community centers. Western societies are considered more culturally open and their share houses tend to focus on providing preference and interest-based community environment. Shared housing corporations marketing themselves with better community elements and facilities of their share houses also often leads to the increase in market rental rates. Unlike Korea where share houses are still being operated in smaller scales, the share houses in the west tend to be operated based on the concept of economies of scale. The Collective Old Oak which is the world’s largest share house located at London, U.K. with more than 500 rooms per building is a good example of economies of scale.
Japan which is predominantly made up of single-person and two-person households, introduced shared housing already in the 1980s. Shared housing is a necessity in major cities like Tokyo and Osaka where the cost of living is awfully high. Many foreigners living in Japan also choose to live in share houses because of language and various regulatory problems. Sharing housing is not only a common way of living but it has already evolved into various different forms of living. The people also view shared housing not as a cheap way of living but a place for sharing lives. The collective house Kankanmori which opened in 2003 modeling after the Swedish collective housing, provides completely independent living units and community spaces while encouraging social and cooperative activities among the residents. Although not blood related, by living together, people started caring each other and even started sharing the responsibilities of child rearing and nursing.
When shared housing was first introduced, the general consensus in Korea was that it would not be fully accepted by the society because Koreans tend to priotize privacy over sharing compared to Americans and Europeans. But because of the rising cost of living and growing openness of the society, people increasingly became familiar and interested in the concept of shared housing. It is still only viewed as a potential solution to the housing problem younger adults are experiencing and is too early to expect it to become as popular as it is in western societies but looking at how rapidly our society is changing today, shared housing will eventually follow the global trend. And when that day comes, share housing will not be simply a choice we make to save living costs but a type of accommodation that serves different purpose for different people. And types of housing we have never seen before will gradually appear as well.