Last April the city of Fukui adopted a “guideline” in its municipal public housing regulations that stated non-Japanese who applied for low-income housing must be able to “communicate in Japanese.” Applications for those who cannot will not be accepted. Since then various groups that work with foreigners in Japan have protested the guideline, but it still stands. Some of these groups have said that they are aware that some non-Japanese applicants, though they qualify for public housing otherwise, have been prevented from applying for housing due to the new guideline.
There are nine cities in Fukui Prefecture, but only Fukui City has such a rule. The city official in charge of public housing told a local newspaper that his office had received complaints from community associations (jichikai) of individual public housing complexes. These associations said that some non-Japanese residents were unable to communicate “very well” in Japanese, and thus it was difficult for them to understand and follow association rules regarding the “sorting of refuse” and “noise.” For that reason, the city government adopted this new guideline.
The criteria for acceptance in public housing is that the applicant’s income be below a certain level, that the applicant lives with “other family members,” and that the applicant has not been remiss or delinquent in paying his or her local taxes. Until April the only rules regarding non-Japanese applicants are that they possess either permanent resident status, “special” resident status (tokubetsu eijusha, usually people of Korean or Chinese nationality who have lived in Japan since birth), or permission to reside in Japan for at least three years. Now they also must have “Japanese communication ability.” However, there is nothing in the guideline that specifies how this ability to speak Japanese is to be assessed.
Japan’s Public Housing Law does not stipulate Japanese language ability as a requirement, but an official with the Construction Ministry told the newspaper that “individual regions can adopt their own criteria” and “local governments should make their own judgments” regarding how the law should be applied, so there is nothing legally wrong with the Fukui guideline.
Fukui City maintains 1,957 low-income public housing units, of which 75 are occupied by non-Japanese families. There are 3,917 registered non-Japanese living in the city, the largest amount of any municipality in the prefecture. Since the new guideline went into effect, 3 non-Japanese families have moved into public housing. The city does not keep records of how many have been refused.
UPDATE: A further discussion of this issue can be found here.
I heard of a similar rule that was introduced in Shiga-ken a few years back. I think it makes sense. One thing about public housing complexes is that they are self-governed, with every household taking it in turns (usually annually) to chair the monthly association meetings and fulfill all the other roles and obligations of sharing a common living space. Another thing is that many complexes hold a monthly clean-up of the grounds, and surrounding areas, and reasonably basic communication skills are necessary to take part in this (to keep track of dates and times, follow instructions, etc). Of course garbage disposal and parking issues tend to pose many problems even amongst Japanese residents, let alone people who don’t speak the lingo.
Interestingly, my danchi gave up the monthly clean-up a few years ago and decided to outsource it because the rising number of elderly and invalid residents made it unfeasible to expect every household to participate. We now pay 500 yen extra on top of our 2000 yen maintenance fee – a pretty good deal if you ask me.
No, it doesn’t make sense. Who judges? What is defined as “be[ing] able to communicate in Japanese”? I am sure that leaves a loophole wider than a barn door that will allow someone in a position of authority to say, “Oh, you don’t know that word/kanji? You obviously can’t communicate in Japanese! Application denied!” What about the fact that foreigners pay a share of the taxes that subsidize such residencies? Do they need to be “self-governed”? (I am assuming that that is something like a 町内会.) Or is that a relic of a bygone era that is clung to in an effort to preserve the “wa”? What if your spouse is Japanese, an can communicate in your language, but you yourself speak no Japanese? I could go on. What it boils down to is an arbitrary, discriminatory policy.