Nuclear evacuees to face tougher housing situations from April

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, some 160,000 people fled at one point and over 32,000 people remain evacuated outside of the northeastern 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 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, including Miyagi and Yamagata 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.
Only 23 percent of residents registered with nine municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture that were formerly designated as hazard zones after the 2011 nuclear disaster have returned, local authorities said Thursday.
The central government began lifting evacuation orders in 2014, but of the 47,721 certified residents of the nine municipalities in northeastern Japan, 11,003 individuals currently live in their hometowns.
The evacuation order for the Miyakoji district of the city of Tamura was lifted in April 2014 and currently 81.3 percent of its registered residents live there.
Among areas where hazard designations were lifted between 2015 and 2016, 41.4 percent of registered residents live in Minamisoma, where restrictions in most parts of the city have been lifted, and 52.2% live in the town of Naraha, due in part to efforts to revitalize its residential and commercial areas. It also provided free temporary housing near the town until the end of March 2018.
On the other hand, areas where restrictions were lifted comparatively late have lower residency rates, with only 6.1 percent of individuals registered with the town of Namie living there after evacuees were allowed to return in the spring of 2017. Similarly, 9.2 percent registered with the town of Tomioka live there, as do 18.4 percent in the village of Iitate.
The towns of Futaba and Okuma, where the Daiichi nuclear power plant is located, remain no-go areas. Although evacuation orders for parts of Okuma are set to be lifted this spring, there is little sign so far that many evacuees plan to return.

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