National | Regional voices: Chubu

Mie city's outreach to struggling residents in public housing pays off

Chunichi Shimbun

Officials in the city of Yokkaichi, Mie Prefecture, are working to reduce rent delinquency among low-income residents of municipal housing, by visiting defaulters individually and compiling custom payment plans.

They aim to support the public housing residents — half of whom are aged 60 or older — by giving advice on family finances and offering information on the social welfare services that are available. As a result of the initiative, the number of defaulters and the amount of unpaid rent have both dropped sharply, officials say. The payment rate posted a record high of 99.92 percent in fiscal 2018, up from 94.54 percent in fiscal 2013.

On the morning of Aug. 30, Yokkaichi officials responsible for municipal housing were visiting a 90-year-old man who lives alone. Asked whether he can be forgetful, the man said, “Sometimes I forget where I put my keys, that I left the water running and so forth.”

An official asked if he would like them to invite a team that can assist with early stages of dementia to help, adding that they offered various kinds of support. The man had been living in municipal housing for roughly 20 years.

After he started to fall behind with rent, in around February, the officials got in touch with him and asked the local social welfare council and other officials to help him manage his finances. One goal was to help him avoid using all of his pension payouts immediately after receiving them.

Now he is paying his rent regularly, but — considering his age — officials still visit from time to time to offer support. “I’m glad that they are helping me. I couldn’t have managed it by myself,” the man said.

With many graying residents living in public housing, individual visits to collect rent are also opportunities to check in on overall home lives, creating a means to offer assistance or information about welfare services.

“Since many of the residents have difficulty making a living, it is becoming difficult for the issue to be handled by officials in charge of housing alone,” a representative of the land ministry said. “It is important for them to coordinate with other divisions and organizations in charge of social welfare.”

As of the end of March, Yokkaichi had 25 city-run apartment complexes — home to 4,181 residents in 2,251 households. The apartments, offered at an average monthly rent of ¥14,000, are available only to people with a monthly income of ¥158,000 or less.

The city sends defaulters reminders to pay rent and evicts residents who fall three months behind. Those who fail to vacate the apartments could even be sued.

In addition to such measures, over the last six years, the local government has been aiming to help residents manage their finances so that they are able to pay their rent.

Based on interviews with defaulters about their financial conditions, officials qualified as financial planners create payment plans and give advice on how to use services including unemployment insurance and subsidized medical care. As a result, the number of households in Yokkaichi failing to pay municipal housing rent declined to fewer than 200 in fiscal 2018, down from some 700 in fiscal 2013, according to the municipal government.

The value of default payments carried over was halved from ¥239 million in fiscal 2013 to ¥108 million in fiscal 2018, the city said. And newly unpaid rent was significantly reduced, from ¥22 million in fiscal 2013 to ¥300,000 in fiscal 2018.

This has also helped to cut cases of residents taking out consumer loans — which are offered at higher interest rates — to pay their rent, a practice that ends up saddling them with more debt.

“Such initiatives might appear to take a lot of effort, but in the long term it helps make it easier for people to pay rent,” said Keiji Inagaki, who heads the Yokkaichi Municipal Government’s urban development division. “We can break the vicious circle by offering measures that are considerate toward the residents.”

Municipal housing units were initially built nationwide to cope with a housing shortage after World War II. Later, they were rented by young workers saving up to buy their own homes.

Land ministry statistics show that there were some 2.16 million municipal housing units in Japan and that the rent payment rate was 97.5 percent as of the end of fiscal 2017. The amount of unpaid rent for fiscal 2017 totaled ¥12.3 billion, with ¥46.9 billion in default payments carried over at the end of fiscal 2017.

This section features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published on Sept. 6.

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