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2014年8月 3日 (日)

(社説)増える空き家 放置防いで活用探ろう

August 02, 2014
EDITORIAL: Making good use of millions of vacant houses
(社説)増える空き家 放置防いで活用探ろう

As many as 8.2 million houses in Japan are unoccupied, accounting for 13.5 percent of all existing houses in this nation. The number has increased by 630,000 from five years ago and is the highest on record, according to latest government data.

A confluence of factors is behind this trend, including such major social changes as the postwar tendency among Japanese to live apart from their parents and the aging and shrinking of the population. The number of vacant houses is expected to continue growing in the coming years.

If left abandoned, vacant houses could collapse or become targets of crimes like arson. Greater efforts should be made to prevent uninhabited houses from being neglected and find new uses for them.

Homeowners should in principle take care of their houses. There can be cases, however, where vacant homes pose a safety hazard, such as dilapidated houses in areas of high snowfall that are on the verge of collapse. In such cases, the local government may have no choice but to demolish them.

More than 350 local governments across the nation have ordinances concerning proper management of unoccupied houses. The city of Daisen, Akita Prefecture, and Tokyo’s Ota Ward have torn down houses in danger of collapsing on behalf of the owners under their ordinances regarding such situations.

A group of lawmakers is working on legislation to deal with the increasingly serious problem. One key provision of the envisioned law would give municipalities access to information about local residents’ records concerning the municipal tax on real estate so that they can identify the owners of vacant houses. Another would allow local governments to order the owners of dangerous vacant houses to demolish them.

However, dismantling a house to create a vacant lot means losing a real estate tax break. The tax burden on the owner could increase up to six times.

Many experts say this tax rule is one of the factors behind the growing number of unoccupied houses.

If the government considers putting together a comprehensive package of measures to deal with the problem, changes in tax rules may be effective components.

Some policy efforts are under way to make use of vacant houses that could otherwise become sources of trouble.

Low-rent public housing for low-income earners is generally very popular, with the number of families wishing to move in being dozens of times larger than the number of units available.

Vacant houses could meet the needs of the huge ranks of people looking for low-rent housing.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in April started a pilot project to use empty houses to provide housing to low-income elderly people.

The project is aimed at encouraging owners to rent their unused houses to such people. Under the project, nonprofit organizations and other entities will provide support for the daily lives of aged renters to ease the landlord’s concerns about the possible solitary deaths of occupants.

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism is planning to ease government and ministerial ordinances related to the Building Standards Law, under certain conditions, to make it easier to turn vacant houses into group homes and other facilities for the elderly.

In June, the city of Kyoto started providing subsidies to help remodel detached houses and vacant row houses into housing for foreign students or local public facilities. The municipal government has already received around 100 inquiries about the new subsidy program.

Usable vacant houses are valuable resources. A wide range of organizations and people should be involved in the efforts to come up with good ideas to overcome obstacles to utilizing them.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 2


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