- Few of North Korea's rich drawn to live in penthouses
- Concerns over power and water supply keep them away
- Uncertain functioning of elevators also deters many
- For leader Kim Jong Un, skyscrapers showcase build quality
SEOUL, April 15 (Reuters) - Living in a penthouse is a dream for people in many countries. In North Korea, it is not that much.
Leader Kim Jong Un keeps constructing outwardly luxurious high-rise apartment buildings in Pyongyang, with the most recent being a massive skyscraper this week.
While defectors and other North Koreans argue that unreliable elevators and electricity, inadequate water supply, and concerns about construction make sure that historically few people have wished to live near the top of these structures.
"In North Korea, the poor live in penthouses rather than the riches, because lifts are often inadequate, and they cannot pump up water due to the low pressure," said Jung Si-woo, a 31-year-old defecting to South Korea in 2017.
In the North, Jung lived on the third floor of a 13-storey building that lacked an elevator, while a friend who lived on the 28th floor of a 40-storey block had never used the elevator because it was failing.
Jung said he believed Kim was just showing off as the new 80-foot skyscraper was first inaugurated this week.
"It's to demonstrate how much their construction skills have improved, rather than considering residents' preferences," said the university student.
North Korea has assigned housing to its territory, with the use and sale of habitations or apartments that are technically illegal in the socialist state.
Experts claim that the practice has become common, mostly by those who profited from the spread of private goods under Kim. He has pledged to improve construction quality and build tens of thousands of new apartments.
Its economy has been hammered by self-imposed border closures against COVID-19, natural disasters, and international sanctions for its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, which the United States believes would draw limited resources away from satiating people's needs.
On Wednesday, state media said the first 10,000 new apartments had been completed in Pyongyang, dating back to a new low of 50,000, and noted the speed of their completion, including the 80-floor skyscraper.
Workers "guaranteed the quality of construction," and the addition of new apartments and other structures that are intended for use in education, public health, and welfare services, according to KCNA.
In this unreleased photo by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on April 14, 2022, a nighttime view of a terraced residential neighborhood on the Pothong River in Pyongyang, North Korea. THIS IMAGE IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA
On Thursday, state media showed Kim inaugurating another housing complex, this time for elite members, including a famous television anchor.
They were small-sized structures, each measuring about two feet tall.
PROGRESS TO BE MADE
Under Kim, the power supply improved dramatically, spawning new night life opportunities, but North Korea continues to face shortages and shoddy infrastructure.
Many have turned to individual solar panels for their spells without power. That has spawned a slew of small items of consumer electronics, but they cannot power capabilities such as elevators and water supply.
Lee Sang-yong, the editor-chief of Daily NK, a Seoul-based website that reports on North Korea, claims that regular residents were not ready to live in apartments.
Windows had only frames and water taps, although they were installed, were not working, but the recently completed luxury homes come complete with furniture and utensils.
North Korea will need to improve electricity and water supplies to keep the housing market competitive, and he will overcome concerns about the value of the construction.
When Jung arrived in Pyongyang, most elevators worked just twice a day, during peak commuting hours from 6 to 8 a.m., and the same time in the evening.
People living on higher floors are often forced to carry water upstairs from the ground level, or even install their own special pumps, according to a source.
In 2018, the elevators at the 47-floor Yanggakdo International Hotel operated, but there was no electricity on dozens of floors where North Korean employees stayed.
At the time, two North Korean officials reported to Reuters that one of Kim's recently opened pet construction projects, on Mirae Scientists Street, had only few takers, because of concerns about elevators.
"No one wants to risk having to climb for an hour," one observes.