Temporary housing beset by lack of land / Government estimates 72,000 units needed for disaster victims, but only 395 completed
Masaki Takakura, Yuki Nagano and Sho Funakoshi / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writers
The construction of temporary housing for disaster victims in areas hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake has not progressed as planned because there is not enough suitable land, it has been learned.
While the government estimates that 72,000 units are needed for displaced residents, only 395 units had been completed as of Wednesday. The land secured so far is only enough to build 31,000 units.
Candidate sites are limited in areas such as the Sanriku coastal areas of Iwate and Miyagi prefectures, where flat land is in short supply and many of those who lost their houses wish to stay in their hometowns.
The situation is compounded in Fukushima Prefecture, where an accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant has led to compulsory evacuations and the central and prefectural governments face difficulty in judging where to rebuild.
About 42,000 people have taken shelter in Miyagi Prefecture, and the prefectural government estimates that they need about 30,000 temporary housing units.
Yet only about 6,500 units have secure sites while construction has begun on only 5,370.
In Minami-Sanrikucho, an area heavily devastated by the disaster, about 3,300 units are needed but residential zoning accounts for only 2.5 percent of the town’s available land. Construction has started on only 416 units.
Three of the government’s seven secured building sites are school yards.
“The only upland plots where we can build temporary housing are school yards,” said Mayor Jin Sato. “Though students will be inconvenienced by this situation, I request their understanding on this matter.”
Minami-Sanrikucho has also asked the prefectural government whether two other schools partially flooded during the disaster can be added to the candidate sites.
This is despite the prefectural government’s usual policy which bans the building of temporary housing in flood-prone areas hit by tsunami.
Yet the Miyagi prefectural government has judged the flood risk to be low because the schools were not totally flooded. It plans to allow the town government to use the two sites.
“Suitable locations are in short supply so there needs to be some flexibility examining flooded land,” said Miyagi Gov. Yoshihiro Murai at a press conference.
He also indicated that if demand from local residents is strong enough, the government may allow construction in areas flooded by the tsunami.
Preference for temporary housing is usually given to publicly owned land and places where water supply and electricity facilities can be easily set up.
Because there are not enough available sites, the town government asked residents to lease any available property. So far, land owners have offered to provide 30 plots for temporary housing purposes.
A prefectural government official said, “We try to avoid using privately owned land as much as possible, because in many cases it is necessary to rezone the land.”
Yet given the shortage of suitable temporary housing sites, the prefectural government said its request was unavoidable.
In Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, the city government may use farms and undeveloped land as temporary housing sites.
The city government is considering leasing upland dormant farmland from its owners and setting up electricity and water supply facilities there.
In Onagawacho, Miyagi Prefecture, the construction of 161 temporary housing units on middle and high school land was canceled because an April 7 aftershock caused fissures in the ground.
The local government has only secured land for 157 of 2,000 needed temporary housing units.
Prefectural officials have asked the town government to look for plots of land in nearby municipalities, but town government officials are worried because many residents have voiced a desire to stay in their hometown.
Meanwhile, in Iwate Prefecture, sites for about 12,000 out of 18,000 units have been secured, and construction of 3,843 units has already started.
But as publicly owned land is scarce, some of the remaining 6,000 units will likely be built on privately owned land.
Such is the case in Otsuchicho, Iwate Prefecture, which was pummeled by the tsunami and needs 2,260 units for its displaced residents. But officials are having difficulty in securing suitable land because many sites are in areas susceptible to landslides.
Although some residents proposed moving to neighboring Kamaishi, other residents recently offered to lend their property for temporary housing purposes.
In Fukushima Prefecture, the estimated number of temporary housing units was revised upward from 14,000 to 24,000 because of the expected increase in evacuees following compulsory evacuations from designated areas close to the nuclear power plant.
Municipal governments had requested that any temporary housing units be built as close as possible to the residents’ original hometowns and where residents from the same towns can live together.
The Fukushima prefectural government said it had secured almost enough sites that would meet these requests.
The prefectural government has selected sites mainly in parks and former flatland residential areas in cities such as Fukushima, Sukagawa and Shirakawa. It also said it will consider construction in other nonflat areas.
The prefectural government also received a request from the town government of Futabamachi, which temporarily relocated to Kazo, Saitama Prefecture. Futabamachi officials have requested that temporary housing for evacuees be built inside Fukushima Prefecture. The prefectural government is searching for suitable locations.
A residential survey by the town government showed that some residents would be happy if the local governments rented private apartments in Saitama Prefecture on their behalf, but none of the residents wanted temporary housing to be built there.
Under the disaster relief law, such temporary housing is built by prefectural governments. Municipal governments are responsible for securing land and managing the units.
Each unit costs about 2.4 million yen to build, and it takes about three weeks to build 120 units. Rent is free, but residents are required to pay for their utilities. The units are offered for up to two years in principle.
In the case of the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, temporary housing was built in parks, public sports facilities, schoolyards and on privately owned land. It took about five years for all the residents to move out of such temporary housing.
Building slower than after ’95 quake
Shigehisa Hanamura / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer
Construction of temporary housing for evacuees of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami has been slower than that following the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake.
Central and local governments are struggling to find building sites for temporary houses because damage caused by the March 11 disaster is more extensive than in the Hanshin earthquake.
As of Wednesday, 12,000 temporary houses were being built or had been built in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures. The central government plans to build a total of 72,000 units by August.
The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry said building materials are available for the units, but the ministry worries about lack of building sites. It is asking municipalities across the nation to send officials to help find building sites in the devastated areas.
After the Hanshin earthquake, a total of 48,300 temporary units were built for evacuees. The first family moved into a unit on the 17th day after the earthquake. All units were completed about seven months after the earthquake.
Explaining delays in the latest disaster, an official at the ministry said: “[Compared with the Hanshin quake] this time the damage was more extensive. At the early stage, we couldn’t carry in building materials and conduct surveys to find building sites because of a lack of gasoline.”
Because occupancy of temporary housing was chosen by lottery in the Hanshin earthquake, existing local communities were broken up, resulting in many cases of solitary deaths in the units.
Learning from that experience, local municipalities assigned residents to temporary units based on the existing communities after the 2004 Niigata Prefecture Chuetsu Earthquake.
This time, the central government asked municipalities to maintain local communities, but some municipalities aired concerns that if construction of community-based temporary housing is delayed, people will start to move into completed units without regard to existing communities.
Kansai University Prof. Yoshiaki Kawata, a member of The Reconstruction Design Council, a private advisory panel to the prime minister, and an expert on disaster prevention, said, “Disaster victims should move into temporary housing as soon as possible, considering the burden of living in small evacuation sites.
“The central and local governments need to prepare living environments that residents are familiar with. Creating ‘temporary urban districts’ with shops, clinics and day care centers is one option.”
(Apr. 22, 2011)