On October 14th, representatives from the US and South Korean governments sat down in Washington, DC, to put pen to paper on a new realm of mutual collaboration. Often thought of exclusively in terms of security or economy, the US-Korea relationship is by no means limited to just those fields. Cooperation also exists on issues of energy and the environment, education, and now on housing finance and community development, thanks to a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by Julian Castro, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Ted Tozer, President of mortgage financing agency Ginnie Mae, and Yeo Hyung-ku, the Vice Minister for the Korean Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.
Secretary Castro, who greeted the crowd with an excellent “환영합니다,” (hwanyeong hamnida, or “Welcome!” in Korean), has some experience with South Korea. When he was mayor of San Antonio, he traveled to Gwangju to promote trade relations and recognize the two cities’ sister-city relationship. He emphasized that while trade of goods and services was important to US-South Korea ties, trade of knowledge and expertise is also an important area of cooperation.
At the signing ceremony, Vice Minister Yeo highlighted the fact that Korea’s housing supply has managed to keep pace with the country’s rapid economic development over the past 50 years, but that creating affordable housing for low income families remains a challenge. President Tozer described Ginnie Mae’s resilience during the global financial crisis, and illustrated how his agency’s expertise in housing finance would be of use to Korea in addressing the cost obstacles faced by home-buyers. Korean Ambassador to the US, Ahn Ho-Young, who was also in attendance, pointed out that it is thanks to instances of cooperation such as this new MOU that the US-Korea relationship remains so robust, in that it is not limited to just security or economic concerns, despite the significant weight of those topics.
The MOU, which includes agreements on information sharing, exchange of personnel, and the undertaking of joint research projects, is aimed at supporting the financing of affordable housing, sustainability in community development, and promoting stability in housing markets in both countries. The enthusiasm from both sides for the new accord is evident from the fact that the first meeting under the terms of the MOU happened the same afternoon as the pact was signed, signaling strong intent to get right down to business.