The Fukushima Prefectural Government, aiming to encourage residents to return to areas they evacuated after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, announced on June 15 its intention to end free rent for voluntary evacuees in March 2017, while continuing to provide limited support for a time.
Among such evacuees are families living in poverty, and the prefectural government intends to listen to the needs of these families while deciding on the details of its policy.
Many voluntary evacuees are living in private apartments, and their rent is free. Just like with forced evacuees from areas with evacuation orders placed on them, voluntary evacuees have had their free rent extended on a yearly basis, in accordance with the Disaster Relief Act.
At a press conference on June 15, Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori said, “The construction of publically-managed recovery homes (for evacuees) has made progress, and it will be difficult to maintain the emergency aid being offered under the Disaster Relief Act.”
As replacements for free rent, some measures the prefecture plans to offer evacuees include: financial assistance starting this fiscal year for moving into Fukushima Prefecture; financial rent assistance for low-income evacuees starting in fiscal 2017 and lasting a few years; and preparation of publically-managed homes both in and out of the prefecture for evacuees to move into. The prefecture will seek financial assistance from the national government in order to provide these services.
Starting in July, the prefectural government plans to open consultation meetings in regions with large numbers of voluntary evacuees regarding lifestyle support and returning to evacuated areas.
“We will think of a framework that allows us to respond to everyone’s individual wishes. We want to enrich the contents of our support policies,” said Gov. Uchibori.
The exact number of voluntary evacuees is unknown, but at the end of last year, the Fukushima Prefectural Government estimated there were 25,000 people, across 9,000 households. Five thousand, across 2,000 households, are believed to be in the prefecture, and 20,000, across 7,000 households, are believed to be outside of the prefecture. This year the Fukushima Prefectural Government and the central government, which pays for the free evacuee rent, have been in talks about how much longer to extend the free rent. Since last month, the prefectural government has been exchanging opinions with municipalities with voluntary evacuees in them. The Fukushima government reached the conclusion that, with radiation decontamination work having moved forward and living conditions in evacuated areas improving, in order to encourage evacuees to move back and become independent it is necessary to end the free rent.
The Fukushima Prefectural Government has also decided for now to set the end of the residing period for forced evacuees living in temporary housing structures at March 2017, with what to do after then to be dependent on factors including whether evacuation orders on restricted areas have been lifted.