Only 300 Temporary Homes Completed for Japan’s Quake Evacuees After 2 Months; Nearly 8,000 Units Requested by Noto Residents

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A newly built temporary housing unit is given a final inspection in Wajima, Ishikawa Prefecture, on Thursday.

The construction of temporary housing units for evacuees left homeless by the Noto Peninsula Earthquake is progressing slowly despite massive demand among residents for places to live, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

Eight cities and towns in Ishikawa Prefecture have received applications from residents for a total of almost 8,000 housing units. The prefecture aims to start constructing 4,600 units before the end of March, but so far only about 300 units have been completed.

Friday marks two months since the devastating earthquake struck on Jan. 1. About 19,000 people are still sheltering at evacuation centers, relatives’ homes and other locations, and securing places for them to live remains a pressing issue.

Based on a Yomiuri Shimbun survey of the prefectural and affected municipal governments, eight cities and towns – Wajima, Suzu, Nanao, Hakui, Noto, Anamizu, Shika and Uchinada – have received 7,971 applications from residents wanting to move into temporary housing units. Wajima had the most applications for units, at 4,140, followed by 1,936 in Suzu. Some other local governments are considering the construction of temporary housing units, so the number of applications could increase.

The prefectural government initially set a goal of beginning construction on 3,000 temporary homes before the end of March. However, strong demand for these units resulted in this figure being bumped up to 4,000 units and then revised upward again to 4,600 on Feb. 27.

A total of 302 temporary homes have already been completed, including 76 in Wajima and 90 in Suzu. The prefectural government aims to steadily complete more units by around summer, including the additional units announced this week. However, concerns abound in the cities and towns hosting sites where the temporary homes will be built.

“That’s too late when we take into account factors such as maintaining employment and people trying to rebuild their lives,” one local government official said. “People will end up leaving the area before then.”

Shortages of workers and suitable land are major causes of the construction delays. The hard-hit Okunoto region at the northern tip of the Noto Peninsula has the sea and mountains nearby, so flat land available for building temporary homes is scarce. Wajima, which has completed just 2% of the number of units being sought, had not chosen any candidate sites in advance. A Wajima government official admitted the city had been caught unprepared. “We had assumed we’d use city-owned land, but we hadn’t specifically decided which sites. We thought we’d adjust our response to this issue based on the number of people wishing to live in the units and other factors,” the official said.

Finding enough building contractors has proven to be difficult. Compounding this problem, a one-way journey from Kanazawa takes several hours, so the entire building process has not been very efficient.

In addition to constructing temporary housing units, the prefectural government also is encouraging residents to move into privately rented accommodation that the local governments will borrow for use as temporary housing. The prefectural government is attempting to secure 4,500 privately rented units within Ishikawa Prefecture and 3,700 outside the prefecture. However, few such properties are available in the four cities and towns in Okunoto, so it will be impossible to find places able to accommodate all the residents who want to stay in the region.

About 75,000 homes in 19 cities and towns in Ishikawa were destroyed or damaged by the earthquake. The prefectural government is currently considering the eventual number of units to be constructed. “We hope to have people moved in by, at the latest, the end of the school summer holidays,” Ishikawa Gov. Hiroshi Hase said.