construction, housing, japan government, land, legal, permanant housing, planning, reconstruction, reconstruction budget, relocation, yomiuri shinbun

Funds key to rebuilding disaster victims’ lives / Local governments rough out plans to buy land, help groups revive destroyed communities, yomiuri, 1/23/12

Junya Hashimoto and Isao Takahashi / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writers

Local governments in disaster-hit areas are giving people whose homes were swept away by the March 11 tsunami a rough idea how much they are prepared to pay for their devastated land so the victims can rebuild their lives on higher ground.

This has piqued the interest of disaster victims, who want to know how much their land is worth.

However, the purchasing prices are expected to differ depending on how the land will be utilized in the future.

At a meeting on Jan. 10, officials of the Higashi-Matsushima municipal government in Miyagi Prefecture explained a plan to relocate en masse the residents of its Nobiru district.

When the 180 residents attending the meeting asked how much their land would be purchased for, a city government official said, “The prices will be between 80 percent and 97 percent of those before the disaster.”

The figures were the results of assessments by real-estate appraisers in 12 selected locations in tsunami-hit areas. The official called the figures rough standards.

“The prices offered were much better than I expected. I felt a sense of relief as I may be able to build a house again,” said 68-year-old Tsugio Shino, who attended the meeting.

Others also said the prices were beyond their expectations.

Local governments planning to relocate entire local communities from tsunami-hit areas are basing their plans on a central government project to assist group relocations for disaster prevention.

Under these plans, local governments in charge of a project purchase disaster-hit plots of land from victims after assessments are made by real-estate appraisers on the basis of how the land will be utilized in future.

The Higashi-Matsushima city government asked real-estate appraisers last December to evaluate the value of the land.

At the time, the municipal government emphasized that it wanted to build mega-solar power plants utilizing the city’s weather conditions–it has many fine days even in winter–and that it was chosen last year as a future environment preservation model city under the central government’s national economic growth strategy.

A city government official said, “About 10 billion yen in investments are expected in the next 10 years, and [the real-estate appraisers] probably regarded that as a favorable factor.”

At the meeting of residents, city officials offered as an example the amount of money it projected a resident would need to build a new house on land leased by the city government.

The city government aims to make the land rent free for 10 years. If a resident uses 2 million yen in financial aid under a system to assist in the reconstruction of houses damaged or destroyed in the disaster, and receives a central government subsidy on housing loan interest payments, a resident would be able to repay the loans in 25 years at 33,000 yen a month, the local government said.

The tsunami flooded 63 percent of the city’s urban areas and the city government estimates 5,100 people in 3,000 households need to be relocated.

The city government has already secured 210 hectares of land, sufficient for 1,400 households.

Starting in late February, the city government aims to confirm whether residents will relocate en masse, and plans to compile a blueprint, including relocated sites and the number of households to be relocated, by late March.

Starting in districts where agreements are reached, the city government plans to begin laying the groundwork next fiscal year after obtaining approval from the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry.


Reactions over prices mixed

Local governments in other disaster-hit areas gave mixed reactions to the prices the Higashi-Matsushima municipal government presented.

An official of the Onagawa town government, which also plans to relocate the town’s residents en masse, said, “Such prices are impossible in our town, where the population is declining.”

In a meeting of residents in December, Sendai municipal government officials predicted the assessed values of residential land in tsunami-hit areas would be 30 percent to 40 percent less than before the disaster.

The city government made this prediction on the basis of assessments by real-estate appraisers, as the tsunami-hit residential areas will be used as agricultural land or parks.

Therefore, the city government has come up with a plan to exempt up to 10 million yen in land rents for the next 30 to 40 years to reduce the burden on disaster victims.

A senior official of the Miyagi prefectural government said: “Sendai is the largest city in the Tohoku region and Higashi-Matsushima hosts an Air Self-Defense Force base. Because they have fiscal strength, they may be able to offer a large amount of aid. Other municipalities may not be able to match that.”

In Iwate Prefecture, the prefectural government asked a local association of real-estate appraisers to assess prices of land at 86 locations in 12 municipalities in coastal areas, and expects to receive the reports by the end of this fiscal year.

In Fukushima Prefecture, the Shinchi town government informed residents its purchasing price of tsunami-hit residential land would be about 80 percent of officially appraised land prices or higher.

Prof. Yoshiteru Murosaki of Kwansei Gakuin University, an expert of urban disaster-prevention studies, said: “Disaster victims who lost their jobs are leaving the areas. Reconstruction of disaster-hit areas is impossible unless people stay in their communities. Public assistance for the reconstruction of victims’ houses should be considered more flexibly, from the viewpoint of not only benefiting individual victims but also revitalizing local communities.”

Murosaki called for the current systems to be reconsidered. “I think the most desirable system is one in which victims don’t shoulder the burden of buying land. For instance, victims’ land in the disaster-hit areas could be exchanged for land at the relocation site,” he said.

(Jan. 23, 2012)

About liz

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


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