Retreat

On Jan. 22 the land ministry announced that inspection criteria for construction of new homes and condominiums would be simplified starting sometime in June. At present it takes about 70 days for new construction to be approved after the proper documents are submitted, and the ministry wants to cut this period in half so as to stimulate new home construction, which is sluggish.

Criteria for inspection of documents was made stricter after the 2005 scandal that exposed how some architects and builders were forging documents regarding the strength of materials used in construction of new buildings. As a result a number of hotels and condominiums had to be rebuilt in order to meet earthquake standards. In 2006 the land ministry tightened inspection procedures of these documents and since then the number of new housing starts had declined.

Of course, the ministry acknowledges that the main reason for this decline is the subsequent recession and the population shrinkage that will continue in the future. Housing starts, after all, have been declining since they peaked in 1990 at 1.7 million units. Between Jan. and Nov. of last year, only 719,000 units were built. Does this mean business will be back to normal, with all the negative connotations that cliche carries?

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