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70% of voluntary Fukushima evacuees undecided where to live after free housing ends

Some 70 percent of voluntary Fukushima nuclear crisis evacuees have not decided where they will live once a free housing program winds up at the end of March 2017, a Fukushima Prefectural Government survey has found.

    Beginning in May, prefectural officials will visit these evacuees to provide support for rebuilding their lives in line with their wishes.

    The survey was sent to some 12,539 households outside the nuclear disaster evacuation zones -- as well as to tsunami survivors -- who have moved to other areas both inside and outside the prefecture. Preliminary survey results were based on 9,944 households (4,636 in the prefecture, and 5,308 in other parts of Japan) who had evacuated to temporary residences, including apartments.

    A total of 6,091 households, or 61.3 percent, responded to the survey. These included people who will not be able to move into permanent housing units until March 2018 due to delays in the construction of disaster-related public housing or new private homes, among other reasons.

    A total of 1,774 respondents, or about 30 percent, said they have decided on their housing for April 2017 and onward. Nearly 40 percent of those who have evacuated within Fukushima Prefecture have already planned their future accommodation, against just 20 percent of those who have left the prefecture.

    Meanwhile, 4,285 respondents have said that they remain undecided about where they will be living after the free accommodation period has ended. Among these, around 90 percent of those living in Fukushima Prefecture indicated that they wished to stay there.

    Among those living outside of the prefecture, some 10 percent said that they wanted to return, while about 70 percent said they wished to continue living outside of Fukushima, and roughly 20 percent said that they were undecided.

    "We would like to work together with local governments that have taken in evacuees to provide support to ensure that people will be able to secure housing," noted Masaaki Matsumoto, head of the Fukushima Prefectural Government's Evacuees Support Division.

    The prefecture has also announced it will shoulder half of residents' rent payments (up to 30,000 yen per month) for low-income and single-parent households for the first year after the free housing scheme has ended, and one-third (up to 20,000 yen monthly) for the second year.

    "My husband had to find new work (when we first evacuated here), and his income was reduced," said Mayumi Takahashi, 44, who lives in the city of Niigata's Nishi Ward together with her husband and two elementary school-aged children. The family moved there after voluntarily evacuating from Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, following the disaster. "We have absolutely no idea at this point about the future, because we do not even know where we want to live -- much less whether we want to rent another apartment or build a new home."

    She added with confusion and apprehension, "Without free housing, we will be unable to live. The free housing program is ending too early."

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