To reverse population decline as communities across the nation find themselves with more and more aged residents, municipal governments in parts of the country are providing housing subsidies to entice young families to rent or buy houses and apartments long left vacant.
The number of vacant properties has been rising in rural areas due to aging and declining populations. About 1 in 8 homes in Japan have no one living in them, according to government data.
“Since we have a 5-year-old daughter, a home for a single family is attractive,” Hidetaka Imoto, 43, said. “The air is clean here and we feel relaxed with elderly people being around.”
Imoto moved to the Fujimigaoka residential complex in Oita from an apartment in another part of the city to take part in the city’s experimental program, which provides a subsidy of up to ¥40,000 a month to help families with children pay their rents.
In the complex, which is about 30 minutes away by car from the downtown area, about 3,000 households live mostly in single-family homes.
Many who have lived in the complex since it was built in the 1970s are now elderly, and the occupancy rate has declined gradually since 2000.
As of the end of 2010, there were more than 40 vacant units at the complex.
To deal with the issue, the Oita Municipal Government launched a subsidy program in fiscal 2011 and started offering information on its website about vacant properties available in the city.
It has also provided new residents further financial assistance since fiscal 2013, taking over their fixed asset taxes for three years.
The efforts appear to have paid off: The number of vacant homes at the complex had dropped to 12 by the end of last year and the number of residents is expected to bounce back this year.
“Young people have moved in and the future for this complex should be brighter,” said Yukiyoshi Sasakura, 70, head of a local community association.
Many other areas in Japan are also promoting empty properties.
One-third, or 375, of the 1,158 local governments that responded to a survey by the Japan Organization for Internal Migration in January said they have set up an “empty home bank.”
Since launching the service, the city government in Saku, Nagano Prefecture, has seen 247 empty homes in the city rented out or purchased, followed by 172 in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, and 110 in Ayabe, Kyoto Prefecture.
Among residents entering such housing, the ratio of migrants from the Tokyo metropolitan area rose to 51 percent from 37 percent in the 2009 survey, and the proportion of people in their 20s to 40s has surged, according to the organization, which comprises local governments and companies.
“Many local governments have laid out financial support steps for working households with children, while parents are looking for a free, relaxed environment in a rural area to raise their children,” said Chikako Goto, one of its officials.
Keiji Hatakeyama, head of the tourism exchange promotion division in the city of Saku, said: “People interested in vacant homes used to be those who are almost 60, but an increasing number of younger people who plan to start farming or those who are engaged in such fields as information technology and can work away from their offices are showing an interest.”
But the organization also said 59 percent of local governments with empty home banks responded that only a small number of property owners have agreed to sign up their vacant homes.
Those owners are apparently unwilling to clean up or pay the costs of refurbishing the homes for rental, the organization said.
The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry is thus aiming to formulate a property contract guideline that lets tenants renovate the homes to their own tastes if they pay all the expenses.
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