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Nuclear evacuees to face tougher housing situations from April

A voluntary evacuee from Fukushima Prefecture and her son stroll around the venue of a festival in Yonezawa in the neighboring prefecture of Yamagata in February 2019. (Kyodo)

YAMAGATA, Japan (Kyodo) -- Voluntary evacuees from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident will face tougher housing situations from April as only one local government in Japan will continue a free housing program, according to a Kyodo News tally.

Ehime Prefecture in western Japan will become the sole prefectural government providing free housing to those evacuees, keeping the program through the end of March 2020, after three prefectures are set to end the scheme by late March.

Separately, rent subsidy schemes for those who voluntarily fled from areas outside no-go zones designated by the central government, which were still provided by seven prefectures in fiscal 2018, will all be terminated at the end of March, the tally showed. The end of housing support could add to the financial woes of the evacuees.

"Our prefecture also hosts a nuclear power plant so we would like to support (the evacuees) as much as possible," said a prefectural government official of Ehime, which hosts Shikoku Electric Power Co.'s Ikata plant.

As of August 2018, 16 people in 10 households lived in prefecture-run apartments and other residences in Ehime under the free housing program.

Following the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant, which equaled the severity of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, some 160,000 people fled at one point and over 32,000 people remain evacuated outside of the northeastern Japan prefecture as of January this year.

But the Fukushima prefectural government ended free housing support for voluntary evacuees in March 2017 and many local governments in the country followed suit.

The Fukushima government will also terminate in late March up to 20,000 yen ($179) in monthly rent subsidies for some 2,000 low-income evacuee households. It plans to call on voluntary evacuees to return home, maintaining that decontamination work has significantly lowered air radiation dose, and has said it will help them find new houses in the prefecture.

Aside from the free housing program and rent subsidy, other types of support will continue to be provided in some prefectures.

The Akita government will provide up to 100,000 yen for evacuees who relocate within the prefecture.

Evacuees in Tokyo and nine prefectures are favorably treated over other applicants in public housing lotteries, but not many of them have taken advantage of the system so far.

According to a survey by the Tokyo metropolitan government conducted after its free housing program ended in 2017, the majority of evacuee families said they earn less than 200,000 yen a month.

"Voluntary evacuees feel cornered because the aid will be terminated. They need basic support at least," said Kanna Mitsuta, 51, who works for an evacuee support group in Tokyo.

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