Rent hike looms for 70% of 3/11 disaster victims in state-run housing

Kyodo

About 70 percent of those forced into government-run housing because of the Great East Japan Earthquake will face rent hikes in fiscal 2018 as the government moves to reduce financial support for those with low incomes.

The rent hikes are expected to affect some 16,000 households in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures. The municipal governments responsible for the state-run dwellings are demanding a review of the central government’s plan.

Monday marked 6½ years since the magnitude 9.0 quake spawned tsunami that wiped out parts of Tohoku’s coastline on the afternoon of March 11, 2011.

Under the government’s rent subsidy plan, the aid declines gradually starting from the sixth year in state-run housing and ceases altogether in the 11th year, though the amount of support varies depending on each person’s rent and income.

However, under special measures, people whose houses were destroyed are eligible for three years of public housing regardless of income. Many began moving into such housing in fiscal 2013.

For example, a disaster victim in Sendai whose only source of income is the state pension and who lives in a state-run dwelling with two rooms and a kitchen will pay ¥5,600 in rent every month until the fifth year. After the 11th year, when the financial support is withdrawn, the rent will be ¥18,200.

Beneficiaries of such dwellings include households whose monthly income is ¥80,000 or less, from which a certain amount is deducted for dependents residing there. According to the municipal governments, the number of such households totaled 3,321 in Iwate, 9,272 in Miyagi and 4,101 in Fukushima.

Some of them receive financial support from their municipalities and therefore will not be affected by the reduction in central government support.

One such person is Toshiji Sato, who lives alone in a state-run housing unit in Sendai.

Sato was a taxi driver but quit the industry after developing mental distress from the disasters. He now relies solely on his pension.

He stopped smoking and drinking in a bid to save money but now, after paying rent, medical and utility costs, has almost no money left over, he said.

In May, Sato and other displaced residents living in public housing launched a campaign calling for the suspension of the rent hike. About 2,000 signatures were collected.

“I want the country and the city to take a little more care of the disaster victims,” he said.