Vacancy rate to soar

This baby’s only 40 years old!

Japan will shortly start paying for its shortsighted housing policy with a depressed real estate market that will probably never recover, according to findings by Nomura Research Institute. If the depreciation of home values continues at its current rate and the number of new home construction is the same as it was in 2003 (1.2 million units), then the vacancy rate for all dwellings in Japan will be 43 percent in 2040. And even if new home construction is halved over this period of time, the vacancy rate in 2040 will be 36 percent.

Of course, that’s a completely hypothetical situation and probably doesn’t reflect what will really happen since in 2015 it’s projected that the total number of households in Japan will start to decline. In 2008 there were 50 million households in Japan and 57.5 million housing units, meaning that the vacancy rate in that year was 13 percent. Read More

Passing unnoticed

It’s a long way to the bottom

A recent article in the Mainichi Shimbun mentioned a study carried out by 98 local governments that operate public housing. In 2009, this study found, 1,191 people who lived in these public housing units died alone and in most cases their deaths were not discovered for at least several days. The vast majority of these people were over 65, about 74 percent. In addition, the Mainichi said that UR, the semi-private housing corporation attached to the national government, reported that 472 people over 65 died alone in apartments they run nationwide in 2009.

This seems to be the first time any housing entities have recorded and publicized statistics related to kodokushi (dying alone), which will become much more common as the population ages. A greater percentage of elderly people live in public housing, not just because it can be cheaper (UR rents, however, are market rates), but because private landlords usually don’t like to rent to older people who plan to live by themselves, for reasons that aren’t difficult to figure out.

Another reason why older people tend to live in public housing is that they’re already there. A lot of public apartments were built in the 60s and 70s. People moved in and had families. Their children moved out and a spouse died, thus leaving them alone.

A more troubling aspect is why these people die alone and aren’t discovered days or even weeks after they do. The vast majority tend to live in cities, and urban apartment life discourages the kind of community life that nurtures relationships. It’s difficult for older people to leave their apartments, take the elevator down, and go out to see people; and obviously it’s less likely for acquaintances to drop by the way they would if the older person lived on the ground.