The central government would like nothing better than to rid itself of its public housing organ, UR, which is actually a semi-public corporation but bleeds so much money that the government constantly has to prop it up. Recently, the government committee tasked by the new ruling party to screen budget requests by the overstuffed bureaucracy took aim at UR, and for good reason. The public housing organ has attracted all sorts of superfluous amakudari (“descent from heaven,” or offices/agencies that basically exist just to give work to retired bureaucrats) projects that should be excised posthaste. And, in fact, UR should probably be privatized, but before the government does that it should first study why UR is so popular and try to figure out a way of retaining those features through law.
A recent letter to the Asahi Shimbun neatly sums up UR’s appeal. The letter was written by a 47-year-old zainichi, or permanent resident of Japan of Korean background (technically tokubetsu eijusha). For sure, this man has lived his whole life in Japan and likely only speaks Japanese. Why he has elected not to become a Japanese national is his business, but there are reasons that we won’t go into here. In any case, as he points out in the letter, if UR is privatized he will be at a great disadvantage. UR does not require guarantors the way private landlords do. Foreign nationals, including zainichi, can effectively be shut out of private rentals even though doing so is illegal. Landlords can do it by indirect means, though, such as through the guarantor system. Almost all require that a guarantor be a Japanese national and related to the potential renter.
Without UR apartments, zainichi renters have to hire a gurantor company, which charges a lot of money to be a guarantor. The letter writer is afraid that if UR goes private, or if it sells all its 770,000 units to private real estate companies, there will be nowhere for him to turn. It’s not fiscally rational to say the government should not privatize UR, but it should at least prevent the sort of housing discrimination that the guarantor system makes possible if it does privative UR.