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Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011

FYI

CIVIL SERVANT HOUSING

Bureaucrat housing perks draw fire


Staff writer

As The Government Scrambles To Find Funds To Rebuild The Disaster-hit Tohoku Region, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda Hinted Monday The Government May Cancel A ¥10.5 Billion Project To Construct A State-owned Housing Complex For Civil Servants In Asaka, Saitama Prefecture, Amid An Opposition Uproar.

News photo
In our backyard: Local residents protest construction of a housing complex for bureaucrats in Asaka, Saitama Prefecture, on Oct. 3. Below: The site as seen on Oct. 1. KYODO PHOTO

The issue came under the spotlight when the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, which originally mapped out the construction plan when it was in power, criticized Noda last month for forging ahead with the project while displaced residents in Tohoku suffered in temporary housing.

Noda at first said he would stick to the plan but changed his mind after visiting the site and decided on Oct. 3 to freeze the plan for five years.

The Asaka complex drew attention to the subsidized, low-rent housing public servants enjoy in the heart of the metropolis — including in upscale districts — a perk unavailable to common citizens.

Following are basic questions and answers on housing facilities for civil servants:

Why does the state provide housing for public servants?

The law on public housing for bureaucrats aims at "ensuring a smooth operation of government projects by allowing bureaucrats to work effectively."

News photo

In case of an emergency, for example, government officials need to get to their workplace as soon as possible, thus some must live in central Tokyo.

The law also ensures housing for civil servants who are transferred in and out of Tokyo.

But critics say private-sector workers face some of the same conditions and feel bureaucrat housing shouldn't be subsidized by taxpayer money.

According to the Finance Ministry, there are about 220,000 civil servant apartment units nationwide, including 20,000 in Tokyo. In the past five years, about 25,000 were demolished.

What riles the public?

The main beef appears to be the wide gap between the high rent commanded for convenient locations sought by the public, versus the low-cost digs bureaucrats are compensated with. Many civil servant dwellings are in the center of the metropolis, including the trendy Aoyama, Hiroo and Daikanyama districts.

For example, a 92-sq.-meter bureaucrat apartment in Aoyama rented for ¥94,000 a month in 2004, compared with ¥200,000 to ¥300,000 for a similar public-use dwelling.

The average rent for a new 63-sq.-meter bureaucrat apartment in Tokyo is only about ¥44,000, while a parking space costs between ¥5,000 and ¥16,000, according to the Finance Ministry. A subsidized flat of the same size rented for ¥29,000 on average from 1992 to 2004.

Some 12 years later, in 2004, the LDP-led government raised the rent by up to 43 percent after in response to public criticism of the low-priced complexes.

The rent for a three-room unit with a living room, dining space and kitchen (LDK) in the new Asaka complex was expected to be about ¥40,000 a month — just a third of what similar housing would cost the average citizen.

Has a state-owned housing complex ever been sold?

No, but the idea was floated in 2006 by then LDP Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who formed a panel to discuss selling public housing. That June, the panel recommended selling 233 of the 325 subsidized apartment buildings in Tokyo and building 25 new complexes over a 10-year period. The panel also proposed selling 1,014 housing complexes for civil servants nationwide, which would reduce their number to 377.

What happened to that proposal?

The government started urging the bureaucrats in the targeted complexes to prepare to move out, but the plan ground to a halt when the Democratic Party of Japan came to power in 2009. Although the DPJ proceeded to push for halting the Asaka and other housing complexes that were to house relocating civil servants, the DPJ's "shiwake" budget-screening panel recommended in November 2009 that the Finance Ministry halt construction of new housing complexes for civil servants, including the Asaka facility.

But partly because the shiwake panel's recommendation was nonbinding, the Finance Ministry, then headed by Noda, decided last December to go ahead with Asaka and another complex in Tokyo's Suginami Ward.

The ministry meanwhile pledged to sell 12 housing complexes consisting of 1,067 apartment units in Saitama Prefecture for a sum between ¥11.4 billion and ¥12.8 billion. The excess beyond the ¥10.5 billion cost of the Asaka complex was, after March 11 hit, expected to be used for reconstructing Tohoku.

As work on the Asaka complex resumed in September, Noda was forced to freeze the project to win the opposition camp's cooperation in passing budgets and key bills.

Many citizens in Asaka were opposed to the complex anyway, but the city welcomed it because it was expecting to receive about ¥260 million a year in residential tax revenue.

What is the government's current position on civil servant housing?

The Finance Ministry plans to launch a new panel to discuss reducing the number of subsidized dwellings and present its proposal by the end of November.

In addition to a plan to sell 37,000 civil servant apartment units based on a ministry decision last December, Noda said the government will sell 16 Tokyo apartment buildings located in Chuo, Chiyoda and Minato wards.

It remains to be seen, however, if the plan will be carried out.

Are there other types of state-owned apartments?

Yes. There are housing facilities for Diet members who are from outside Tokyo and do not own a house in the capital.

The most well-known of these apartment complexes is in the Akasaka district in Minato Ward, close to the Diet building.

The 28-story building is made up of 3LDK units, which each rent for ¥92,000 a month.

According to the Mainichi Shimbun, the first state-owned housing facilities were built in Akasaka and Kojimachi in 1948 to accommodate Diet members from outside Tokyo.

The Weekly FYI appears Tuesdays. Readers are encouraged to send ideas, questions and opinions to hodobu@japantimes.co.jp


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