Public housing on the ropes

Housing complex along Sumida River run by Tokyo-to

There are two types of public housing available in Japan. A national public corporation called UR runs semi-public housing whose rents are pegged to property values. Meanwhile local governments at the prefectural and municipal levels provide housing for low-income families and individuals. Last week, the Asahi Shimbun surveyed this latter category among Japan’s 47 prefectures and 19 major cities. The newspaper found that 1/3 of these entities planned to reduce the number of units of low-income housing in the future.

In fact, the only two local governments who said they planned to increase low-income public housing was the prefecture of Okinawa and the city of Sagamihara in Kanagawa Prefecture. Everyone else said they either would keep the number they already have, or had not made any plans at all.

The governments who said they would decrease public housing stated as their main reason the declining population. The second most common reason was difficulty in securing funds for maintenance of existing housing. Two prefectures said they were planning on rebuilding their housing facilities, since the bulk of low-income public apartments were built in the 60s and 70s. When they carry out the reconstruction work, they will probably reduce the number of units per building. Another reason that wasn’t mentioned as often but certainly had a significant impact is the fact that subsidies for public housing from the central government have dropped by 40 percent in the past ten years. Read More

Romancing the sponge

The atomization of society has inevitably led to more and more elderly people living alone and, consequently, dying alone, too. In 2006 in Tokyo, 357 old people died in public housing units without anyone knowing until days or even weeks after they passed. One of the biggest “danchi” (apartment house complexes) in Tokyo is the Toyama Danchi, located about 10 minutes from Takadanobaba station in the center of the city. This particular complex is for low-income people, which means a fair number of older people live there. At present, almost 52% of the residents are over 65. This is not accidental, however. It has been very carefully planned. Read More

Lowered ceilings

Some basic stats as of 2003: There were 47 million housing units in Japan, of which 28 million (61%) were owned and 17 million (37%) were rented. Twelve percent of the rental units, or about 2.89 million, were public housing. The amount of rent charged in these public housing units is determined by income. As mentioned below several times, the recession has forced local governments to reassess the criteria for public housing applications in order to make it “fairer.” According to an Asahi Shimbun survey, 40% of local governments are planning to lower the maximum income ceiling for being accepted into public housing from ¥200,000 a month to ¥158,000 a month.

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Rotten apple patrol

Last month, eight local governments in Fukuoka Prefecture signed an agreement with the two police stations that cover their area to basically ban known members of organized crime organizations from renting public housing units. The agreement went into effect on April 1, and apparently it’s no April Fool’s joke. Read More