Elderly people in the Tohoku region are disproportionately stuck in special public housing five years on from the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, an Asahi Shimbun survey has shown.
Some 37.8 percent of disaster victims still living in special public housing in the three prefectures hit hardest by the disaster–Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima–are 65 or older, underscoring the difficulties older people face in rebuilding their homes on their own.
By comparison, 27.3 percent of the three prefectures’ population is 65 or older, so the survey showed that the percentage of people in that age group living in public housing complexes for disaster victims was considerably higher than might be expected.
The survey, which drew its data from two prefectural governments and 50 city, town and village offices that manage special public housing, also showed that 29.8 percent of elderly residents lived alone in special public housing for disaster victims.
It covered 25,860 people living in 12,507 public housing units, and found that 9,787 of those people were aged 65 or older at the beginning of this year, including 2,920 individuals that lived alone.
The ratio of elderly residents in special public housing is highest in Fukushima Prefecture at 39.2 percent, followed by 38.7 percent in Iwate and 37.1 percent in Miyagi.
Among municipalities with at least 100 residents still living in special public housing, Shiogama, Miyagi Prefecture, had the highest proportion, with 56 percent of such residents being 65 or older, followed by 50.4 percent in Shichigahama and 50.3 percent in Onagawa, both in Miyagi.
In Shiogama, Shichigahama and Natori in Miyagi Prefecture, the percentage of elderly people living in special public housing was higher by more than 20 percentage points compared with the average proportion of elderly people in those areas.
“Financial institutions often refuse to offer housing loans to elderly people, leaving them with no option but to stay in public housing,” said an official of Shiogama city in charge of public housing programs.
“They also opt to remain in public housing because they think it is not worth investing much money to rebuild their homes because they have limited life expectancy.”
In the wake of the Great Hanshin Earthquake in western Japan in 1995, the concentration of elderly residents in special public housing emerged as an issue.
As residents aged, community bonds in such housing complexes were weakened, often leading to isolation of residents and even unattended deaths.
“We hope to support residents’ initiatives to create community associations and other residents’ groups, so that they can monitor and help each other,” said an official of the Sendai city government, which has the largest number of 492 elderly people living alone in public housing for disaster victims.