kyodo, temporary housing

Securing land for housing for disaster victims poses challenge, 5/1/11 kyodo

TOKYO —
Securing enough land for temporary housing for victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami has emerged as a challenge for government officials as they work out reconstruction plans for northeastern Japan.

On Monday, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism announced that it should be able to secure land lots to build around 52,000 temporary housing units for those who lost their homes in the most heavily hit prefectures of Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima.

This is still short of the need. The government still has to find lots for around 20,000 more units.

Local government officials, who are tasked with the job of finding those lots and building homes, say the central government’s announced figures do not take into account the wishes of disaster victims who do not want to leave the towns and villages they have lived for a long time.

‘‘It only means the prefecture has that many land lots,’’ a local government official said.

At the central government, officials have also started considering borrowing privately owned land as they believe all available public land has been exhausted.

Temporary housing units are in high demand by evacuees. On April 26, a draw was held in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, to select tenants for 137 temporary housing units. Against this quota, around 6,700 households have submitted applications.

‘‘It’s like winning a prize in a lottery,’’ said Susumu Atsumi, 56, one of the applicants. He has been living in a shelter built at Ishinomaki municipal junior high school. ‘‘It also comes too late.’’ The units are expected to be completed Thursday.

Finding land in desired locations appears to be the bottleneck in temporary housing construction, as builders have enough supplies in stock. By August, the land ministry is planning to build 60,000 units that require 1.08 millions of plywood sheets. At the end of March, manufacturers had more than 4 million of them in inventory.

In Miyagi Prefecture, lots for around 28,000 units have been secured, according to the ministry, against a total of 30,000 units estimated to be needed. Of the secured lots, those for 11,525 units are located in inland areas not hit by the disaster.

Whether housing will actually be built or not there is subject to discussions between prefectural and municipal governments. Because coordination is needed among local officials, there is no clear road map on how to proceed with the temporary housing plan after June.

Desperate decisions have been made in some areas hit by tsunami. In Minamisanriku town in the prefecture, for instance, a total of 125 units are to be constructed on school yards at two schools that were submerged by the tsunami.

Despite the tsunami risks to the area, the prefectural government gave the go-ahead for construction, accommodating the municipal government’s view that residents would be safe if they evacuate to the top floor of the school, even if a wave similar to the previous tsunami hits.

Other tsunami-hit regions are in a similar dilemma of striking a balance between securing enough land and ensuring disaster preparedness.

Keen on prioritizing the safety of residents, Iwate Gov Takuya Tasso proposed to 12 disaster-hit municipalities his plan to designate them as ‘‘disaster risk zones’’ under the building standard law. The designation would impose restrictions on building construction in risk areas.

But Miyako Mayor Masanori Yamamoto rejected the idea of forcing any measures on residents, saying he would not impose any restrictions, though the city will inform residents that safety may not be ensured.

The town of Otsuchi was also devastated by the tsunami and is seeking to build 2,000 temporary units. But its temporary town office is already set up in the tsunami-encroached area.

In Fukushima Prefecture, where the disaster has been compounded by the nuclear crisis, residents’ hopes of resettling close to their homes may be dashed as a wide area has been designated as a no-go zone.

The town of Okuma requested the prefecture to build around 700 units in Aizuwakamatsu and neighboring Iwaki cities, where many of its residents have evacuated in groups. Of them, arrangements have been made for around 500 units. A town official in charge said, ‘‘I think residents are feeling the pain of not being able to have their homes built in their hometown.’‘

Iwate and Miyagi prefectures do not have many public land lots suited for temporary housing construction. An official at the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry suggested the possibility of borrowing privately owned land because of the urgent need to secure a large number of lots.

The land ministry had dispatched 49 employees to work on securing land in disaster-torn areas. On Tuesday, 10 more have been sent to step up the operation.

Land minister Akihiro Ohata ordered ministry officials to speed up the construction process in a meeting earlier this month. ‘‘We have told (the Diet) that 30,000 units will be completed for delivery by the end of May,’’ he said. ‘‘We will be in a difficult position if they cannot be completed.’’

© 2011 Kyodo News. All rights reserved. No reproduction or republication without written permission.

About liz

from the u.s., recently moved from kobe to sendai, japan, researching community-based housing recovery after disaster.

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