NATORI, Miyagi — A large number of residents at a temporary housing complex in this tsunami-hit city face eviction due to landowners’ demands to return the premises, it has been revealed.
The Natori Municipal Government said on May 19 that it is demanding residents at the Medeshima Tobu temporary housing complex in Natori move out to other temporary housing compounds, following demand from a landowners’ union to return the premises to them. The residents had moved into the complex in the wake of the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.
The move is the largest-ever eviction demand in the three disaster-hit prefectures of Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima. Residents at the Medeshima temporary housing facility voiced opposition to the move during a briefing session held by the Natori Municipal Government and the Miyagi Prefectural Government late on May 19.
The Medeshima housing complex is the city’s largest such facility, accommodating 322 residents in 162 households from the Yuriage district of the city — where nearly 800 residents died or went missing in the tsunami. Immediately after the disaster, the prefectural government leased the land lots rent-free from the landowners’ union on a two-year contract and built the provisional housing complex. Last year, the lease was extended for another year until the end of this June, though the prefecture had to pay rent.
However, the landowners’ union recently showed reluctance to make yet another contract renewal, citing a land development plan. The union has indicated that it is poised to begin land development work in part of the compounds as early as October.
“We will negotiate with the union to the end, but it would be difficult unless at least half of the residents relocate to other places,” a city official said. The city will solicit residents who will agree to move out as early as this coming summer and will demolish vacated temporary housing units thereafter. Because the prefecture’s offer to subsidize residents who move into private rented apartments has ended, residents at the Medeshima housing facility will be urged to relocate to other prefabricated temporary dwellings in the city.
However, the other temporary housing units are dispersed at six separate locations in the city and can only accommodate 112 households. Therefore, the city is planning to purchase part of the land at the Medeshima complex from the landowners’ union and retain some of the temporary housing units there.
“We will give consideration to households with children and those in need of nursing care, but we will at best retain nine buildings (for 72 households) at the Medeshima complex,” said a city official.
The city has decided to reconstruct residences in the Yuriage district, but a series of planning revisions due to opposition from some residents who hope to relocate to other areas have withheld the project from going ahead. Many of the residents at the Medeshima complex have no prospects for rebuilding their own homes.
“If we residents are to be separated after giving it our all together, what were the past three years for? I want the city to at least allow everyone to relocate to the same place,” said a 51-year-old resident of the complex.
Under the Disaster Relief Act, temporary housing units are provided to disaster victims for up to two years, after which the central and local governments usually extend the period each year. As of the end of April, there were 22,095 temporary housing units in Miyagi Prefecture and 13,984 provisional housing units in Iwate Prefecture. Of them, some 40 percent and just over 50 percent, respectively, were built on privately-owned land. With more than three years having passed since the disaster, the move to demand the return of private land is expected to increase.
In the meantime, a total of 175 temporary housing units had been demolished in Miyagi and Iwate prefectures by the end of April. Most of them had been built on public land and were torn down because residents had moved out or the land lots needed to be used for the construction of permanent housing complexes for disaster victims or be turned back into school playgrounds. Only 17 of those housing units were demolished due to the expiration of private land lease contracts.
Land readjustment work on the premises where the Medeshima temporary housing complex now stands began in 1999. A prefectural official showed understanding toward the move among landowners to demand the return of private land used for makeshift housing.
“Landowners have their own plans for land use. As it’s been several years since the quake disaster, there will be growing calls for the return of their land,” the official said.
In the wake of the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, it took about five years for all municipalities to see their temporary housing units wrap up their roles. While local governments affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake have begun consolidating temporary housing units, there remain such challenges as how to maintain local communities after relocating residents from one temporary housing complex to another.