Lenders are thinking about canceling liens on residential land to facilitate the relocation of people who lost their homes in the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.
Under the idea, regional banks and other local financial institutions in afflicted areas will give up their claims on the land secured for housing loan repayments by the disaster victims. The borrowers will be asked to repay the loans with the proceeds from selling their property to their municipality.
Japanese Bankers Association Chairman Yasuhiro Sato said Thursday the industry will help affected people move smoothly from tsunami-hit areas.
Municipalities along the Pacific coast in northeastern and eastern Japan have devised collective relocation plans under which they will buy residential land from tsunami survivors so they can move to newly developed residential areas on higher ground.
Covered by these plans are some 30,000 homes in 276 districts in Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima and Ibaraki prefectures.
If lenders cancel their liens on tracts owned by disaster victims, the owners will have more options in selling the property.
Key questions will include how to deal with remaining loans that borrowers cannot repay with their land sale proceeds.
Developers are snapping up land plots in upland areas of tsunami-hit coastal cities in the Tohoku region at inflated prices, pushing up land values and hampering local governments’ mass relocation plans, it has emerged.
According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism’s standard land price report for 2012, which was released on Sept. 19, land plots in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures made the top 10 list of highest appreciation rates for residential properties, while four land plots in Miyagi Prefecture ranked in the top 10 list of those rated for commercial zones.
The survey indicates that property prices in the Tohoku region are on the recovery track in the wake of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, but that soaring land prices could trigger a shortage of land suitable for local municipalities to relocate residential areas to and affect their efforts for recovery.
In June, the Rikuzentakata Municipal Government in Iwate Prefecture decided to relocate three junior high schools that were hit by the tsunami in March last year and were eventually consolidated, to an upland forest and farming area. However, part of the land plot that the city was planning to purchase — about 4,000 square meters — had already been subject to acquisition negotiations between a major home builder and the land owner. According to sources close to the matter, the home builder is offering a purchase price of 10,000 yen per square meter — nearly 10 times the price that the central government pays when buying land to construct roads in mountain areas.
The municipal government was forced to change its relocation plans and subsequently moved the planned construction site to the north. “Land owners may well want to sell their land to those who would purchase it at higher prices, but the government cannot fork out such hefty prices as private companies do,” said Rikuzentakata Vice Mayor Takashi Kubota. An official with the city board of education also expressed concern, saying, “Even though they are private companies, they should take local governments’ plans into consideration when they purchase land.”
Such free acquisition of land by private corporations could also affect moves to relocate residential areas to upland areas. In part of the city of Ofunato, which neighbors Rikuzentakata, candidate sites for the city-led collective relocation to upland areas have already fallen prey to companies’ land acquisition bids.
Because flat land is limited in coastal areas in Iwate Prefecture, the companies’ moves are feared to lead to soaring land prices. While the prefectural government is authorized to set up “monitoring areas,” in which land developers are required to declare beforehand the purpose of use of the land and transaction prices, it is not empowered to abort land purchase contracts. “We have no choice but to call for fair price deals through our public relations office,” said an official with the prefectural government.
Meanwhile, the demand for relocation to inland and upland areas is growing in Miyagi Prefecture. In the city of Ishinomaki, whose commercial land appreciation rate ranked at the top of the country at 11.8 percent, the popularity of the Kokucho district is booming as areas for building condominiums for disaster victims.
A real estate operator in the city testified that the land that remained unsold before the March 2011 quake disaster has since sold out. However, many disaster victims are elderly people, and those who can not afford to buy their own houses have limited options. “The home boom won’t last long,” said the realtor.
The appreciation rate of land prices in the Kokubuncho area in Sendai’s Aoba Ward — a busy shopping and entertainment district in the heart of Sendai — marked 5.4 percent, becoming the eighth highest in the country. “The consumption here has been invigorated thanks to the influx of companies for reconstruction projects,” said a real-estate appraiser.
Fukushima, Aug. 9 (Jiji Press)–The town of Naraha in Fukushima Prefecture will have its exclusion zone status lifted at midnight Thursday, after it was imposed in the wake of last year’s nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 power plant.
It will be downgraded to a zone with annual radiation levels under 20 millisieverts, where temporary visits will be allowed and the central government will make preparations for the lifting of the evacuation order.
The government will begin full decontamination work within this month. It plans to complete decontamination of the area by March 2014.
Among 11 municipalities around the plant, Naraha is the fifth to get a revision under the government’s new evacuation zoning.
Excluding the southern industrial section, almost the entire town is within the exclusion zone set after the March 11 accident last year. Forbidden to enter the zone, most of approximately 7,600 residents are living as evacuees in the nearby city of Iwaki.
Tokyo, Aug. 1 (Jiji Press)–The government will start a survey of Fukushima Prefecture evacuees as early as next week in order to reflect their opinions on envisaged “temporary towns” for areas affected by the nuclear crisis, informed sources said Wednesday.
Starting with people from the town of Kawamata and the village of Katsurao in the northeastern prefecture’s Futaba county, the Reconstruction Agency plans to hear opinions from evacuees and get an idea about how many would wish to settle in such temporary towns.
The survey will be conducted before the agency begins full-fledged discussions on ways to support evacuees and the legal issues to be cleared to realize the project.
The temporary town plan is being studied by four towns in the county seriously affected by radioactive fallout from Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
The survey, to be conducted jointly by the agency and the prefectural and municipal governments, will cover a total of 12 municipalities with designated evacuation zones, including eight Futaba towns and villages. Similar projects may be implemented by more municipalities later.
IITATE, Fukushima–Progress in rezoning evacuation areas contaminated with radioactive emissions has stalled, with the government’s new zoning system enacted in only four of the 11 municipalities surrounding the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
On Tuesday, the new zoning system was implemented in Iitate. The entire village had previously been designated as an expanded evacuation zone, but has now been divided into three areas based on contamination levels.
The government had initially planned to implement the new zoning system in all 11 municipalities by April 1. However, it remains unclear when the system will be introduced in the remaining seven municipalities.
Furthermore, the four municipalities where rezoning has been completed still face various difficulties, such as rebuilding residents’ livelihoods and ongoing decontamination work.
The new zoning system aims to intensively promote decontamination work in areas where radiation levels are relatively low and encourage residents to return home.
Areas previously classified as evacuation zones based on radiation and distance from the Fukushima No. 1 power plant have been sorted into three new zoning categories. Areas are classified after precisely measuring radiation levels.
Iitate Mayor Norio Kanno attended a ceremony to send off resident-organized patrol groups Tuesday. At the ceremony, Kanno said: “We’ve met a number of times to discuss how we should rebuild our city–even though each effort was small. I’ll continue to do my best so residents can return home as soon as possible.”
Most areas in Iitate were designated as either restricted residency zones, where residents will be able to return within several years, or zones being prepared for residents’ return, where residents may return as soon as decontamination is completed. However, the village’s Nagadoro district was designated a residency prohibited zone, and residents will not be able to return for at least five years.
Rezoning procedures in the village had been delayed after some residents objected to the government’s policy of differentiating compensation payments based on which zones residents lived in. Under the government’s plan, people living in zones being prepared for residents’ return would be paid 100,000 yen per month. However, people living in the other two zone types would be paid lump sums–2.4 million yen for those in restricted residency zones, and 6 million yen for those in residency prohibited zones.
Thanks to rezoning, industries and businesses that operate indoors, such as manufacturers and financial institutions, were allowed to return to work–except for those in the Nagadoro district.
“Reconstruction in the village would have been delayed even further without the new zoning system,” Kanno said.
Iitate’s main industries are livestock and agriculture, but many farmers have already given up their livelihoods. As a result, it will be difficult for the village to rebuild its economy and ensure that there are enough jobs for residents. According to a survey conducted by the village in May, 33.1 percent of respondents said they “did not have plans to return.”
About three months have passed since most areas in Minami-Soma city’s Odaka district were designated as zones being prepared for residents’ return. Since then, people have been allowed to freely enter those areas.
However, the water supply and sewage system have yet to be restored in the district, which was home to about 430 businesses before the Great East Japan Earthquake. Of that number, only eight have resumed operations, while 37 were preparing to reopen as of June 15. Twenty-four have decided to permanently close.
A 63-year-old man said he visits his home in Odaka district from Tochigi Prefecture, where he is now staying, to occasionally clean up. He said he refrains from drinking water while he is there because the nearest portable toilet–one of 21 built by the city–is about a kilometer away from his house.
The Minami-Soma municipal government said it is trying to restore the sewage system and water supplies. However, an official said, “We have no specific date for when these services will resume.”
The new zoning system was introduced in Kawauchi village on April 1. While middle and primary schools and day care centers have reopened in former emergency evacuation preparation zones, only 39 children–17 percent of the figure before the Great East Japan Earthquake–attend the facilities.
A 34-year-old woman living at a temporary house in Koriyama said she lost her job after the disaster. The woman, a mother of two, said she is hesitant to go back home. “My 8-year-old daughter begs for us to return home, but I don’t think I can find a new job in Kawauchi,” she said.
Criticisms on rezoning
Some residents in municipalities that have yet to be rezoned are critical of the fact that the new categories are based solely on radiation levels and ignore actual living conditions.
In Okuma, a town designated as a no-entry zone, 95 percent of the town, including the town center, government buildings, banking institutions and shopping areas, is expected to be classified as a residency prohibited zone. As the remaining areas are near the mountains and surrounded by residency prohibited zones, it is unlikely many people will return there.
“Even though we’re allowed to return to parts of our town, we would hardly be able to get everyday items. It would be difficult to live there,” Okuma Mayor Toshitsuna Watanabe said. The town government plans not to return for at least five years.
The Futaba municipal government has asked the central government to designate the entire town as a residency prohibited zone, and hopes the town will be treated in a uniform fashion in all regards, including compensation payments.
“The reality is that we can’t live in the town anyway, even if there are some differences in radiation levels,” Futaba Mayor Katsutaka Idogawa said.
(Jul. 19, 2012)
By Takehiko Suzuki / Yomiuri Shimbun Photographer
reposted from here:
It was 3:30 a.m. Hajime Sato, a 55-year-old fisherman, woke up and rose to his feet. He opened a window and looked out at the sea. “Terrific, the sea is calm today. I can go fishing,” he said.
Sato lives in “Shirahama restoration housing” in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture. The house was part of a reconstruction project by Kogakuin University in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, and financed by mainly business donations, to build 10 new homes in the Shirahama area for people affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.
The houses are on an inland hill 50 meters above sea level, all of them rental units. They are made out of cedar and red pine from the prefecture, and were built by local carpenters and others with the aim of contributing to the revival of the local economy.
There are five people representing four generations in the Sato family–Sato, his wife, his father, his daughter and her 9-year-old daughter. After losing their port-side house in the tsunami, they stayed at an acquaintance’s house. They then moved to temporary housing before relocating to their current place two months ago.
When they lived in temporary housing in an inland area, Sato had to drive 15 minutes to the port for fishing, but sometimes he could not set sail due to stormy weather.
The new house is seven kilometers from the local primary school, and sloping ground around the house makes walking difficult for the elderly. Sato could complain about many things, but he is grateful for his family’s new life.
“I had no idea what a relief it could be to live on a hill without worrying about tsunami,” he said, watching his granddaughter Yumi playing with a puppy they started to keep last month.
Another fisherman, Yoshinobu Sasaki, 49, lives in a house at the same settlement. He can see it on the mountainside even from one kilometer offshore, where he prepares to cultivate oysters.
“I can see the ocean from my window. That’s a good thing for fishermen,” Sasaki said with a smile.
Construction of other restoration housing, by municipal governments, has been delayed. Only two of the 11 communities in Kitakamimachi district, which includes Shirahama, have decided on collective relocation sites at higher ground. But the communities will not be able to move to the new sites for at least a year.
In April, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry extended the two-year limit on staying in temporary housing by one year in principle, but there is still no guarantee that new housing will be ready in time.
The ministry says about 110,000 people living in temporary housing away from their hometowns. Only a small minority have managed to return to a normal, quiet daily life. How long will it take for all quake victims to feel relieved at their homes?
FUKUSHIMA — The central government’s efforts to reclassify evacuation areas around the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant under a new zoning system for decontamination and financial compensation has been significantly delayed as residents in the affected regions continue to demand “fair” compensation.
Under the reclassification that the government had earlier planned to implement on April 1, the 11 municipalities falling within the evacuation zones near the damaged nuclear plant would be divided into three new zones based on radiation levels.
Financial compensation for emotional distress for residents is proposed as follows: (1) a lump sum of 6 million yen per person for residents living in zones where return is restricted for a minimum of at least five years, (2) a lump sum of 2.4 million yen per person for residents in zones where return is expected to be possible in several years, and (3) 100,000 yen per person per month for residents in zones currently being prepared for the lifting of evacuation orders.
Compensation for land and homes would also vary by zones under the proposed scheme.
Two months have passed since the government initially planned to implement the reclassification scheme, and of the 11 concerned municipalities, only three — the cities of Minamisoma and Tamura and the village of Kawauchi — have agreed to the suggested conditions.
The prefectural town of Tomioka, where radiation levels are higher in its northern regions, would be divided into three zones under the plan. Tomioka officials have resisted the reclassification, stating that as long as villagers are not offered equal compensation across the board, the town will not accept the scheme.
“With the current lack of progress in decontamination and rebuilding infrastructure, many residents will not be able to return even after the reclassification takes place, and living conditions will not change,” says Tomio Midorikawa, chief of the Tomioka Municipal Government’s consumer and environmental protection division. “Given that, it is ridiculous to judge the impact of damage through radiation levels alone, differentiating between sets of residents who were forced to evacuate.”
The town of Futaba, which would also be subjected to a three-zone reclassification, has taken a similar stance.
“When we think about the conditions of financial compensation, it is difficult to accept the reclassification,” says an official with the municipal government’s headquarters for disaster control. “Is true reconstruction possible when only residents whose homes are in low-radiation areas return?”
In an appeal for equal compensation and the tightening of standards on maximum allowable annual radiation doses, Tomioka residents launched a signature campaign in April. Having already collected signatures from some 5,000 residents — one-third of the town’s population — the petition will be soon submitted to the Tomioka Municipal Government.
Ryoichi Murai, a 61-year-old Tomioka resident, who is taking shelter in the prefectural city of Iwaki and participated in the signature campaign, urges the central government not to discriminate against residents.
“If evacuees from the same town are subjected to varying amounts of financial compensation, a sense of unfairness will grow between them,” Murai says. “I don’t want us to be discriminated against via this compensation system.”
The Minamisoma Municipal Government agreed to the reclassification plan in April, judging that decontamination and reconstruction would be delayed if the city continued to be classified as a no-go zone. However, it argues that classification and compensation are separate issues, and is appealing to the central government to compensate all residents equally.
Meanwhile, the town of Naraha is expected to fall entirely under the “evacuation order release preparatory zone,” which means all its residents would receive the same amount of compensation. The town government is planning to conduct a resident survey toward approval of the reclassification.
TOKYO (Nikkei)–The government will likely provide financial assistance to municipalities that accept evacuees from towns near the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, to encourage a large number of evacuees to move into new places, The Nikkei learned Friday.
The assistance is aimed at reducing the financial burdens of local host governments and giving a much-needed boost to the “temporary town” plan, which was drawn up by the four towns closest to the crippled nuclear power plant, Namie, Futaba, Okuma, Tomioka, all in Fukushima Prefecture. It is expected to cost tens of billions of yen to move all the evacuees to new places.
Under this plan, these four municipalities will move their administrative functions, schools and houses to other towns and cities indefinitely. The four towns plan to build such infrastructure in cooperation with the Fukushima prefectural government and host municipalities. They also aim to construct public housing for evacuees as well as roads, water-related facilities and shops.
A total of about 50,000 evacuees come from the four towns. Host candidate municipalities, namely Iwaki and Nihonmatsu, would be financially strained if all 50,000 were taken on. Therefore, the central government hopes to help move the plan forward by extending financial assistance.
It still remains unclear how soon radiation levels will decrease in towns and villages in Fukushima’s Futaba area. Worst-case scenarios have the former residents living away from their hometowns for decades.
FUKUSHIMA–The town government of Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture, which is located entirely within the no-entry zone around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, plans to create three “temporary Tomiokas” for evacuated residents, it has been learned.
The plan aims at preserving the town residents’ communities, which were dispersed after the outbreak of the nuclear crisis at the plant. According to a draft of the plan, the three locations will be in the cities of Iwaki and Koriyama in the prefecture, and a part of Tomioka where radiation is low.
Town government officials revealed the plan on Friday at a town committee meeting to discuss reconstruction plan.
However, it is expected to be difficult to realize the project, as consultations with relevant municipalities have not progressed.
According to the plan, the Tomioka town government will first set up its headquarters in the town. It will then prepare for the future return of its residents by conducting decontamination work, readying water supply and sewage systems, and encouraging the relocation of residences in areas hit by the March 2011 tsunami to higher ground.
For residents unable to return to the town in the near future, the town government will encourage them to live in temporary “satellite Tomiokas” in Iwaki and Koriyama.
The town government will ask residents to move back to Tomioka when they are ready to return.
The town’s population as of the end of March was 14,608, including about 4,000 in Koriyama, where the town government is temporarily located, and about 5,000 in Iwaki.
In Tomioka’s planned temporary sites in Iwaki and Koriyama, the town government intends to set up public housing, hospitals, schools and nursing homes for its evacuees.
According to the plan, the town government will name one site after sakura (cherry), the town’s tree; one after tsutsuji (azalea), the town’s flower; and one after sekirei (wagtail), the town’s bird.
The original Tomioka is thus expected to be called Sakura Tomioka, while its temporary locations will be Tsutsuji Tomioka in Iwaki, and Sekirei Tomioka in Koriyama.
Meanwhile, the central government is expected to reclassify the town into three zones.
Zones where accumulated radiation exposure exceeds 50 millisieverts per year will be designated as “zones where residency is prohibited for an extended period.”
Zones with annual exposure from 20 to less than 50 millisieverts per year will be designated as “zones with restricted residency,” where residents will be permitted to make brief visits to their houses while being urged to remain evacuated.
Zones where radiation exposure is below 20 millisieverts per year will be designated as “zones preparing to lift restrictions on residents’ return.”
Sakura Tomioka will be created by selecting areas with low radiation from the “zones preparing to lift restrictions on residents’ return,” with a decontamination target of 1 millisievert or less per year.
In the areas, the town government plans to prepare collective housing and other facilities.
However, an area where the town office was previously located is not likely to be included in Sakura Tomioka because radiation there is still relatively high.
In the two satellite towns in Koriyama and Iwaki, the town government plans to ask its residents to move from temporary housing units or privately rented houses to shared or individual houses.
The town government will consider establishing medical facilities and water supply and sewage systems independently, to avoid overburdening the Koriyama and Iwaki city governments. It also will conduct a survey to determine its residents’ intentions regarding the plan prior to compiling the town’s reconstruction plan in July.
However, the town government has yet to explain details of the plan to the two city governments, a town official said.
“We’d like to consult with the central and prefectural governments as well as the relevant local governments to flesh out the details of the plan,” the official said.
Among local governments that have relocated their offices, the town governments of Okuma and Futaba–both near the crippled power plant–also are considering creating temporary towns in other municipalities.
The town government of Okuma has announced a plan to establish a “temporary Okuma” in Iwaki or municipalities around Iwaki.
The town government of Namie also is planning to prepare communities in the cities of Iwaki and Minami-Soma.
Concerning such moves by municipalities, Iwaki Mayor Takao Watanabe said Thursday: “The city of Iwaki has also suffered serious damage due to the earthquake and tsunami. The housing shortage and strain on medical and nursing services are becoming more severe.
“The central government should create a road map for municipalities of Futaba County [in the prefecture] that indicates a timeline for the residents to return to their original municipalities.
“We don’t know how long we’ll need to support them,” Watanabe added.
A senior Koriyama city official on Friday declined to comment about the Tomioka’s plan.
(Apr. 22, 2012)
A village designated as an evacuation zone in the aftermath of last year’s nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant is calling on its residents to come home.
The central government lifted its ban on entering Kawauchi Village in Fukushima Prefecture on Sunday, allowing free access to all parts of the village. Almost all of the village’s approximately 3,000 residents fled after the accident. About 2,700, or 90 percent, have not yet returned for fear of radiation contamination and other concerns.
The village held a ceremony at its municipal office on Monday to formally appoint employees to their new positions. The village government has had to operate outside the evacuation zone until recently.
At the ceremony, Mayor Yuko Endo said the village should make progress toward reconstruction one step at a time.
The village plans to provide homes in areas that have been determined to be safe. It says it will press ahead with decontamination work and job creation to be ready for the residents’ return.