Taiwan has instituted an ostensibly pro-poor housing subsidy system with some very cruel consequences. One of the most glaring aspects is that it leave non-citizens ineligible, in and of itself understandable, but as a result of some ill thought out bylines, it causes landlords and agents to take extreme measures to avoid renting to non-nationals.
The subsidies for renters range from 2,400 to 5,000 NTD depending on the city and marital status, and are intended to subsidize rentals to non-homeowners, targeting both unmarried youth and families.
The issue in this legal framework arrives on the landlord’s side. Landlords who provide housing and ensure that subsidy holders are the ones who rent their properties are eligible to reduce their tax liability on their properties by a significant margin, and therein lies the issue. Because the terms are so generous for landlords and eligibility so loose for nationals, landlord and agents set the prices lower with the expectation that most renters will be eligible for the subsidy, and therefore the landlord will receive a tax benefit. This is one of the intended consequences, dropping rentals for family properties. However, because of this, landlords and their agents are highly incentivized to only seek out renters who are eligible. As foreign nationals are not eligible, they are usually steered away from properties, outright dismissed, or offered prices 20-30% higher to make up for the difference of this tax subsidy. This essentially institutionalizes the practice of non ethnic-Taiwanese being discriminated against and denied access in their search for housing.
These subsidies were clearly purposed as a public welfare benefit and are not designed to be explicitly discriminatory. Nevertheless, this unintended consequence means that the nearly 800,000 foreign nationals residing in Taiwan are functionally discriminated against in equal access to housing.
This is in contravention of Article 45 of the Taiwan Housing Act of 2011, stating:
Housing is a fundamental human right. Any person shall enjoy equal right to housing and shall not receive any kind of discriminating treatment.
Effective recourse for discrimination, and a rethink and redraft of the eligibility rules of this policy, which were significantly expanded this year are necessary. Making the subsidy inclusive to foreign nationals, even if the benefits are only accrued on the landlord’s side, are necessary to prevent using race or nationality being used to screen potential tenants, a practice which has no place in Taiwan or anywhere else this far into the twenty-first century.
Staff writer: Ari B