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Voluntary nuclear evacuees to face housing assistance gap

Nine of Japan's 47 prefectures are planning to provide financial and other support to voluntary evacuees from the Fukushima nuclear disaster as Fukushima Prefecture is set to terminate its free housing services to them at the end of March, the Mainichi Shimbun has learned.

Fukushima Prefecture's move will affect more than 10,000 households that voluntarily evacuated within and outside Fukushima Prefecture in the wake of the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant meltdowns in March 2011. As many prefectures other than those nine prefectures are set to provide less generous assistance, voluntary evacuees will face a housing assistance gap depending on where they live or will live hereafter.

As of the end of October last year, there were 26,601 people in 10,524 households who were receiving Fukushima Prefecture's free housing services after they voluntarily evacuated from the nuclear disaster, according to the Fukushima Prefectural Government. Of them, 13,844 people in 5,230 households were living outside Fukushima Prefecture.

Those voluntary evacuees have received full rent subsidies from Fukushima Prefecture for public and private housing units they live in under the Disaster Relief Act after fleeing from the city of Fukushima and other areas that lie outside the nuclear evacuation zone. While that has effectively been the only public assistance they receive, Fukushima Prefecture announced in June 2015 that it will terminate the service in March this year on the grounds that "decontamination work and infrastructure recovery have been set."

In a nationwide survey conducted by the Mainichi Shimbun after October last year, Tottori, Hokkaido and four other prefectures said they will provide housing units for free to those voluntary evacuees, while three other prefectures said they will provide rent and other subsidies to them. Fukushima Prefecture was not covered in the survey.

Many of the other prefectures said they will provide assistance based no more than on the central government's request that the conditions for accommodating voluntary evacuees into public housing be relaxed.

The Tottori Prefectural Government will provide prefecture-run housing units to voluntary evacuees for free and will also subsidize all of the rent for private rental housing. The measures will be applied to not only those who already live in Tottori but to also those who will move into the prefecture.

Yamagata Prefecture will provide housing for prefectural employees for free to low-income evacuees, while Hokkaido, Nara and Ehime prefectures will waive the rent for evacuee households living in prefecture-run housing units. Kyoto Prefecture will exempt the rent for prefecture-run housing units up to six years after move-in, and will allow evacuees to continue living in such units after April this year until contract expiration. Niigata Prefecture will provide 10,000 yen a month to low-income evacuees living in private rental housing in order to prevent their children from having to change schools.

"Evacuees have been feeling anxiety about their housing. (As a local government plagued by the aging and declining population) we also expect them to live in our prefecture permanently," the Tottori Prefectural Government stated in its response to the survey.

Most of the other prefectures will set up a priority quota for accommodating voluntary evacuees into public housing units, but they will face severe requirements, such as the need to move out after some time.

"The central government should consider responses in a unified manner," noted the Iwate Prefecture Government in the survey.

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