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Japan blighted by zombie housing







 政府が進める「地方債性」の報道を読みながら感じていたのは、「これって、絶対にあり得ない、Win Win situationを延々と語っているだけではないのか?(」と。そんな時に遭遇した二つの情報。

「地方創生」論議で注目、増田レポート「地方が消滅する」は本当か? 木下斉

“地域活性化”を軽々しく語るな! 消え行く集落の最期を偲ぶ、「ふるさとの看取り方」


Japan blighted by zombie housing

Louise Lucas in Tokyo

Yoko Irie sweeps autumn leaves from the pavement outside the house that neither she nor anyone else has lived in for the past four years.

Other homeowners are less considerate – or even dead – hence the blight cast on Japan’s landscape by more than 8m akiya, or empty homes. Some houses are derelict, some marooned in overgrown grassy plots. Others – such as 61-year-old Ms Irie’s – are in fine condition, complete with underfloor heating and tatami room.

Japan’s zombie houses, which account for roughly one in seven homes, reflect a dwindling populace and what one analyst calls a “scrap and build” mentality. The population peaked in 2008 and with a fertility rate of 1.4 children per woman and minimal immigration, a reversal is not on the cards.

“For 10 empty houses there are 10 different reasons,” shrugs Shigeo Shimada, who as head of Akiya Bank has the task of reducing the ranks of 500 or so such houses in Isumi City, a small suburb of Chiba prefecture an hour by train from Tokyo.

In the 1980s Japanese houses were typically built from wood and designed to last about 30 years. After 2000 that lifespan more than doubled to roughly 70 years, according to Wataru Sakakibara of the real estate division at Nomura Research Institute – still a blink of the eye by European standards.

“Given the many earthquakes, Japanese people didn’t contemplate making houses last any longer,” he says. “Instead, there was a notion to scrap and build.”

While other parts of the world focus on building more homes for expanding populations, Japan is faced with filling – or demolishing – its existing stock. Without any action, the government estimates 20 per cent of residential areas will become ghost towns by 2050, while Nomura reckons one in five homes will be empty by 2023.

Avoiding these scenarios would require overcoming structural obstacles, says Mr Sakakibara. It is expensive to bring in the wrecking ball – estimates vary from Y500,000-Y1m ($4,670-$9,340) – and doing so raises the owners’ tax bill on the land sixfold.

Under a policy devised at a time of population growth, fixed asset tax bills on land were reduced if owners built homes. Attempts to reverse this appear, so far, to have been unsuccessful.

That partly explains the unusual economics of housing in Japan, a country that once boasted the world’s most expensive real estate but where prices have more or less been in retreat since the 1992 peak. Houses themselves are a rapidly depreciating asset; Mr Sakakibara calculates that after 20 years the value resides only in the land.

Thus just 13.5 per cent of purchases were in the secondary market in 2008, the latest year for which government data are available. That compares with 90 per cent in the US in 2009 and 84 per cent in the UK in 2010.

Meanwhile, new houses and apartments continue to be built.

Mitsubishi Estate, one of Japan’s biggest developers, says its new homes should last for more than 100 years but notes that social demand – for unit size, facilities and equipment – changes over time. Another turning point was the introduction of new earthquake resistance criteria in 1981, rendering older buildings far less attractive.

All of which add to the dilemma faced up and down the country. To tackle it – and the attendant ills including the risk of fire and crime – Isumi City has set up a matchmaking service between the usually older owners of empty homes and younger families arriving in the area.

But take-up is slow, says Keigo Itakura, group leader of the Area promotion office. While there are 179 would-be renters, only half the owners of empty homes are known; others are dead or simply cannot be reached.

“It’s a generational change,” he sighs. “Parents used to own a holiday home here but the children who inherited them think it’s too far to come.”




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