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3/11 evacuees’ refusal to vacate temporary housing causes reconstruction headache

Kyodo

At least 900 temporary housing units in 20 municipalities in the disaster-hit prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima have not been vacated or demolished even though residents no longer have a dire need to stay in them, according to a survey.

If those dwellings are not razed, local governments cannot use the land to reconstruct their communities. But some residents have financial, emotional and other reasons preventing them from moving out, causing a headache for municipal officials.

The survey, released Wednesday, was of 46 municipalities that still provided rent-free temporary housing as of the end of July.

In Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, which suffered the greatest tsunami damage on March 11, 2011, 451 temporary housing units need to be vacated, while the town of Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, where evacuees from the Fukushima nuclear calamity stay, had about 160 such occupied units.

“I know it’s not good,” a man in his 20s said of the fact that he still lives in temporary housing despite having built a new home outside Ishinomaki.

He didn’t want to move out because he feared disaster would strike again, leaving him without a home.

“There are still many temporary housing units around and I don’t intend to move out anytime soon,” the man said. Ishinomaki still has about 7,200 such dwellings, the largest within the three disaster-hit prefectures.

In Sendai, where many permanent dwellings have been built, there were still 52 temporary units that need to be vacated, according to the survey.

A few families still live in temporary housing in Sendai despite the completion of a new public housing complex.

When a Sendai official called on them to ask why they hadn’t moved into the new complex, they said they were scared because the new housing had been built at a site that had been flooded by the tsunami.

The official didn’t pressure them further.

“But at some point, they need to move into permanent housing,” the official said.

The holdouts include elderly people living alone.

In one case in Shiogama, Miyagi Prefecture, although the resident had moved to a nursing facility, there were no relatives who could help move the person’s belongings out of the temporary unit. In another case, an elderly resident died in a temporary unit and no one came forward to claim or dispose of the occupant’s belongings.

Financial constraints are also discouraging residents from moving out of temporary units.

An unemployed resident in Kuji, Iwate Prefecture, has been reluctant to move out of the rent-free housing because the new public housing charges rent. Kuji officials have been unable to persuade the resident to apply for social welfare.

There were other cases in which temporary housing units were not vacated because they were being used for unauthorized purposes, including for storage or as hotel-like accommodations.

“There was a case in which the resident built a home outside the town but used the temporary housing to go to work in Onagawa,” said an official of Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture.

“Technically, they need to move out,” said one official. “But some cases are complicated and we have a hard time resolving them.”

Although municipalities have built new, permanent public housing complexes and have urged dwellers in temporary units to relocate to them, there are other hurdles in the way of razing or consolidating the remaining temporary units, including getting residents to relocate away from their current neighbors.

As of the end of July, there were still about 52,000 temporary evacuee housing units in Iwate, Fukushima and Miyagi with an average vacancy rate of about 30 percent, and maintaining these communities and ensuring they remain secure are proving difficult.

Among the three prefectures, 10 municipalities have drawn up plans to reduce and consolidate the temporary housing units and seven are working out plans.

Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, has managed since spring to get more than 50 households to move to another temporary housing site, taking the time to explain the situation to each resident.

Officials at Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, held meetings in July and August to explain to temporary housing residents that some had to move to more consolidated units.

The city plans to reduce the temporary housing complexes from 92 to 23 by the end of 2017.

But the city has been forced to revise the plan because of delayed reconstruction work, which has irked residents of the temporary housing units who had hoped to move into better dwellings sooner rather than later.

Kyoji Nagaya, 62, had planned to build a new home on high ground, but construction won’t start for another six months or more. What he believed would be “temporary” housing turned out to be his residence for more than 4½ years.

“I don’t know how many times I’ve been disappointed,” said Nagaya. “I just have to wait.”