One of the enduring peculiarities of Japan’s employment situation is the idea of company housing. Though since the bubble era and the subsequent erosion of the lifetime employment system most large companies have scaled down their housing benefits, dormitories and company apartments still exist, especially for those in the public sector. And one of the more important features of the growth of nonregular employment over the past decade is company housing for part-time and contract workers. This housing is either owned by the temporary employment agencies that contract with employers, or by employers for use by contract workers. So when these workers are let go, they also have to vacate their company residences, and because they are nonregular workers–meaning they have no job security or guarantor–they have nowhere to go. This situation has given rise to a new phrase, “housing poor.”
Today, there was a rally in Shinjuku to boost awareness of the housing poor. Various NGOs have banded together to form a network to tackle the problem, and the network plans to talk to the government about creating a public rent guarantee system and establishing a “housing safety net.” In Japan, it is almost impossible to rent a housing unit without having to pay a security deposit (equivalent to 1-4 months rent), “key” money (ditto), and a real estate agent’s fee (one month). More importantly, one has to have a guarantor, and nonregular employees are by definition not secured with a regular job. Fiscal 2008 ends Mar. 31, and it’s estimated that several hundred thousand nonregular workers will lose their jobs and thus their apartments. These instant homeless will have nowhere to go, except maybe to their families; but most likely they’ll be out on the street. Highway underpasses are suddenly going to be pretty crowded.