Posts Tagged ‘public housing’

More shopping refugees: Residents of planned community at the mercy of bureaucratic prerogatives

Monday, June 13th, 2011

Build it and pray they will come: Landrome supermarket in Inzai

Nothing represents the bold urban vision of postwar Japan better than the concept of the “New Town.” In line with planned communities in the West, several were designed and constructed during the 1960s and 70s, mostly in the suburbs of Tokyo and Osaka. The most famous is probably Tama New Town in western Tokyo, which was fairly successful in attracting young families to its mix of public apartments and housing developments, though much less successful in attracting businesses. Part of the bold vision was that residents of New Towns wouldn’t have to commute all the way to the central cities, but companies proved reluctant to relocate to the suburbs. Consequently, the new communities didn’t grow. Tama New Town is presently inhabited almost completely by the elderly, meaning the same people who moved in when the project was new.

The plans for Chiba New Town were finished in 1966, and covered parts of three cities in northern Chiba Prefecture: Shiroi, Inzai and Funabashi. The plan presumed a population of 340,000 and a new private train line that would serve these residents. For whatever reason, the people didn’t show, at least not in the numbers the planners envisioned, though the commuter line was built, and as a result of the lack of patronage the Hokuso Railway is the most expensive train line in Japan. From Chiba New Town Chuo to the next station, Inzai Makinohara, a ticket costs ¥280 for a distance that takes about four minutes to cover.

As with most New Towns, Chiba’s was developed by the prefectural government with help from the central government. In 1978, the central government’s housing corporation, Toshi Kiban Seibi Kodan, usually referred to as simply Kodan, became involved in Chiba New Town, developing whole neighborhoods and constructing residences to rent and sell. Kodan would become semi-private in 2004 during the rush to privatize government organs promoted by the administration of Junichiro Koizumi. It changed its name to the more colorful, commercial-sounding Urban Renaissance Agency (though, more accurately, it is a corporation). The change was cosmetically important since Kodan had been bleeding money for decades, but because the agency and its dependent organs had grown so big, it was difficult to make it completely private. Kodan’s whole existence was based on momentum, which is why, despite the fiscal difficulties that perpetually surrounded Chiba New Town, UR was instrumental in opening a new station in 2000 on the Hokuso Line called Inba Nihon Idai, which was centered around the Nippon Medical School Chiba Hokuso Hospital, established in 1994. The hospital is three minutes from the station by shuttle bus, 10 minutes on foot.

Continue reading about "new towns" in Japan →

Annals of cheap: UR apartments to die for

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

Who ya gonna call?

Who ya gonna call?

Not to keep dwelling on the morbid, but one of the inevitable consequences of a rapidly aging society is that people dying alone in their homes is becoming more of a conspicuous phenomenon. There’s a word for it in Japanese — kodokushi — and it carries a particularly depressing idea, since it’s usually used when someone dies and no one discovers the body right away.

As Japan became a more atomized society following the economic growth period of the ’60s and ’70s, more and more old people have been living in urban apartments by themselves, cut off from their communities and even from relatives. Isolated neighborhood groups often form patrols that keep an eye on elderly people living alone, checking up on them regularly to make sure they’re all right. One firm that works with UR, the nation’s public housing corporation, helps older tenants who find it difficult to move about. For ¥500 a month they take out their garbage for them, a service that doubles as a kind of patrol for obvious reasons.

UR, which reported 613 cases of kodokushi in its 750,000 nationwide units in 2008, has a stake in the issue because many of the people who moved into their residences decades ago are still living there, which means the number of kodukushi cases will only increase. The problem for UR is that Japanese people are very averse to living in places where people have died. In fact, there’s a law that says if you are selling your house and someone died there either by foul play or suicide, you have to mention it to perspective buyers. (If it was natural causes you’re off the hook.) UR, or at least the part of UR that covers Tokyo and the surrounding prefectures, has taken the bull by the horns, as it were, and is actually offering “special rental apartments” where the previous tenant died on the premises, called tokubetsu boshu jutaku, at half price for one or two years. So if you don’t believe in ghosts or aren’t otherwise superstitious, there are bargains to be had.

Most of these available units are older, less appealing places, but, for instance, a 2DK in Koto Ward in Tokyo, which would normally rent for ¥80,000 a month, is now available for ¥40,000 a month for at least a year. If you go further out to Machida, you can get a 2DK for as little as ¥30,450. And keep in mind that the security deposit (there is no key money or agent fees for UR), which is usually three months rent’s worth, is also based on this half-price. You can browse these units on the UR home page, but you have to apply for them in person at a UR sales office.

Japanese public housing: It’s not just for poor people any more

Sunday, September 6th, 2009

The entrance to East Core Hikifune, a new UR high-rise in Sumida Ward, Tokyo

The entrance to East Core Hikifune, a new UR high-rise in Sumida Ward, Tokyo

Many agree with the new regime in Nagatacho that the bureaucracy needs to be reduced, but some of us may be more selective than others. I sincerely hope that the Urban Renaissance Agency (Toshi Saisei Kiko) remains untouched, because I rent an apartment from them. I could understand why the Koizumi administration wanted to privatize the agency, but was more than relieved when they failed. Renting a public apartment is much, much easier than renting a private one: there’s no need for a guarantor, no gift money (reikin), and no rental contract renewal fees (koshinryo), a “custom” that has been legally challenged but doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon.

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