The enduring stigma of renting

In April, the government decided to extend its subsidy for temporary emergency housing in the Tohoku region by one year. Originally, they allowed for two years, so that means people who are currently approved to live in temporary (kasetsu) housing can remain where they are until at least April 2014. Most of the media coverage of this issue centers on the new housing that was built specifically for the refugees of the March 11 disaster, but in truth most of the units being used for this purpose are existing houses and apartments that the government is leasing from their owners. According to Tokyo Shimbun, in Miyagi Prefecture alone, there are 26,000 minashi–units being rented from landlords–units in use and 21,500 specially built units.

Not everybody was pleased when the government announced the extension. A group of people who own the land on which some of the temporary housing was built expressed concern that they wouldn’t be able to sell their land for another year, and are worried that the government could continue extending the period of habitation indefinitely, which is what happened in Kobe after the Great Hanshin Earthquake. Another dissatisfied group is an association made up of Miyagi realtors and landlords. One would think that landlords would be happy with the extension, since it guarantees income for another year, and probably at inflated rates since the government is paying. However, one Sendai realtor told Tokyo Shimbun that many of the refugees who are living in these minashi units are not homeowners who lost their houses but rather people who were renting apartments or houses that were destroyed or damaged. The realtor says that local governments assigned these renters to minashi dwellings “without properly checking their situations,” meaning, presumably, that the temporary housing program does not discriminate but it should, since there is a difference between renters and owners. Some “adjustment” (merihari) should have been made before the government decided to extend the program another year. Exactly what “adjustment” means in this case isn’t spelled out, but the only natural conclusion is that the renters should be evicted. Read More