Houses lie vacant, in decay as Japanese population ages

UNTV News   •   December 17, 2019   •   679

An abandoned house in the central district of Tokyo, Japan on December 17, 2019. EFE/ANTONIO HERMOSIN

TOKYO, JAPAN – Taken over by weeds and on the verge of collapse, abandoned houses have become a common sight and have reached record numbers in Japan in recent years, turning into one of the most visible signs of the country’s demographic decline.

The number of unoccupied houses, many of which are owned by untraceable or “ghost” owners, reached 8.46 million last year, accounting for 13.6 percent of total houses in the Japanese archipelago and double the number registered three decades ago, according to official data.

The number of such single-family homes, which carry visible signs of desertion, are especially high in rural areas of the country, but some can be seen even in districts of the highly-populated Tokyo, which figures among the list of cities with the highest land prices, reaching up to 57 million yen ($520,000) per square meter.

The phenomenon is a direct consequence of the rapid aging of the Japanese population, but is also linked to a law that makes it difficult to transfer and register properties, and the changing lifestyle of people.

Although depopulation in rural and suburban areas has occurred in many developed countries due to the loss of jobs in agriculture and industry, the problem has been aggravated in Japan due to demographic and legal factors, University of Tokyo engineering professor Chie Nozawa told EFE.

More and more Japanese people are living alone in big cities, and families that move to a city also rent or purchase new houses there, while parents or grandparents keep living in their houses — some of which have been inhabited for generations — until their death.

“When it’s their turn to inherit, the children already have their own houses,” said Nozawa, adding that the new generation Japanese were breaking the long-standing tradition of preserving the piece of land where their ancestors have always lived, due to weakening family ties.

An inheritance tax, which ranges between 10-50 percent of the property’s value, and the constant supply of newly built houses in the metros are other major factors, according to Nozawa, the writer of a book called “Aging Houses and Deteriorating Cities: the fate of a Society with Excessive Residential Supply.”

In Tokyo’s popular and central districts, collectively known as “Shitamachi,” the presence of crumbing homes awaiting demolition and reconstruction is striking, although the process is neither easy nor fast despite the attraction the land offers for real-estate developers.

Many houses legally belong to heirs who are unable to bear the necessary expenses attached to the property before it can be resold, while in other cases, the owners have died without naming a successor.

A number of home owners are also affected by old-age dementia, other disabilities or economic issues, which prevent them from taking care of old houses that could incur serious damage or develop structural issues over time.

The abandoned houses include many “ghost estates,” where the authorities are unable to locate the owners as records have not been updated for years.

The deteriorating condition of houses sometimes poses a threat to the residents or neighbors due to the risk of fire and collapse, which led to the government introducing a special norm in 2015 to accelerate the eviction and demolition process for dangerous dwellings.

In 2018, 67 houses declared “dangerous” were demolished, according to data compiled by state broadcaster NHK, while a study carried out by local daily Nikkei put the amount of land owned by unknown persons at around 4.1 million hectares (10 million acres), larger than the entire territory of Taiwan.

The government is set to approve a law next year to tackle the growing number of vacant houses, which would facilitate rearranging the space — often converting it to smaller units — to use it for public infrastructure, residences or business use.

However, Nozawa said that Japan’s demographic decline could lead to a “significant increase” in the number of vacant houses.

The Asian country registered its biggest demographic decline in half a century in 2018, losing 400,000 inhabitants due to a sustained drop in birth rates.

The population decline has affected all regions of the country, except Tokyo and other metros, which were the only localities that registered a net increase in the number of residents in recent decades.

Around 35 percent of the Japanese population is expected to be over the age of 65 by 2040 as the last of the Baby Boomer generation ages, a development which could lead to many more houses being abandoned, along with other socio-economic challenges. EFE-EPA

Elderly PUV drivers appeal to be allowed to resume driving despite age

Marje Pelayo   •   June 4, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Buses, modern jeepneys, and UV Express units will be allowed to ply on major roads starting June 22 on the condition of limited passenger capacity and under strict social distancing protocols.

But based on the guidelines issued by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), elderly drivers of public utility vehicles (PUV) or senior citizens are still not allowed to go back to driving as they are part of the vulnerable sector who are prone to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infection.

This was what the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) said in Resolution No. 28 issued on April 23 saying that the elderly or senior citizens are among the high-risk individuals.

But some drivers appealed to the government to allow them to go back to their job, especially those who are fit to drive like Alberto Manuel Jr.

Manuel said he can still drive at his age of 76 and being a jeepney driver has been his ‘bread and butter’ for almost 56 years now. 

“Ang lisensya ko sa 2023 pa mag-expire. Pagdating ng 2023 ang edad ng lisensya ko 59 years na, mag-si-senior citizen na rin[ My license will expire in 2023. Come 2023, my license will be 59 years old, close to being a senior citizen as well],” Manuel said.

“Malakas pa naman ako. Malinaw pa ang mata ko [I’m still strong. My vision is still clear], he added.

Also an elderly, Allan Ocampo has been a jeepney driver for 30 years now. 

He is a member of ‘Barcads,’ a group of UV Express drivers in Novaliches, Quezon City.

Ocampo said the government should take into consideration the condition of senior citizens who are still able to drive as this is their only source of income. 

Sa akin hangga’t malakas kahit senior na [For me, (I can still work) as long as I’m strong despite being a senior citizen],” Ocampo said.

“Parang inaalisan na nila ng karapatan ang isang tao, ang isang senior na gusto pang magtrabaho [It’s like they have taken away the rights of a person, the rights of an elderly who still wants to earn a living],” added Carlito Tumbaga who is also a senior citizen.

Meanwhile, the UNTV News team has sought the LTFRB’s side on the issue but the agency has no reply as of this writing. MNP (with reports from Dante Amento)

IATF: Selected senior citizens allowed to go out under ECQ, GCQ

Marje Pelayo   •   May 1, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — The national government has further relaxed quarantine measures to consider selected senior citizens after several advocates pitched for them in areas under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) and general community quarantine (GCQ) starting May 1.

Initially, the Omnibus Guidelines on the implementation of GCQ restricted senior citizens from going out especially those with immunodeficiency, comorbidity and other pre-existing conditions which make them high risks for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infection. 

But following discussions, IATF and Presidential Spokesperson Secretary Harry Roque said the government is allowing older people, or those 60 years old and above, to go out for essential work in authorized sectors, for medical consultations and for buying essential goods.

“Hindi po kayo pinipigilan, basta po allowed na ang inyong trabaho. Puwede po kayong mag-trabaho mga seniors [You are not being restricted as long as your sector is allowed to operate. Senior citizens are allowed to work],” Roque explained.

Several lawmakers aired concerns regarding senior citizens who are still able to go to work or those who own and manage their own business which requires outdoor transactions. 

In a follow-up interview with UNTV Serbisyong Kasangbahay on Friday (May 1), Roque reiterated that elder citizens who are fit and authorized may go out provided that they have the necessary passes.

Fake news po iyan na pinagbabawalan ang lahat ng senior [It’s not true that senior citizens are restricted from going out],” Roque said.

Roque cited as example the composition of the national government where most officials are senior citizens including President Rodrigo Duterte, the members of his Cabinet and the officials of the IATF. 

He said even under the ECQ, senior citizens may still go out. 

Kahit walang kasama ang seniors para kumuha ng kanilang essentials pwede silang lumabas [They may go out to get what they need even without a companion],” he stressed provided that the senior citizen has an authorized quarantine pass.

Kapag may trabaho, ipakita lang po ang kanilang work ID, wala namang problema doon, [If the senior citizen has work or is employed, just present their work ID, that’s not a problem],” the official concluded. MNP (With inputs from Rosalie Coz)

Elderly couple killed as torrential rains sweep away cars in Spain

Jeck Deocampo   •   September 13, 2019

An elderly couple died on Thursday (September 12) when floodwaters caused by torrential rain dragged their car and flipped it over in eastern Spain, local emergency services said.

The victims, both aged 70, were killed in the region of Castilla La Mancha, the 112 service said on Twitter. In the neighbouring Valencia region, at least two rivers burst their banks, forcing the evacuation of dozens of people.

The Clariano river flooded parts of Ontinyent, south of the coastal town of Valencia, while television footage showed a deluge tumbling through the streets of nearby Mogente, sweeping debris along with it.

Schools in Valencia and the Murcia region suspended classes, expecting the heavy rains to continue. Local authorities recommended people stay in their homes in the worst affected areas, where the weather interrupted traffic on roads and railways and at ports. (REUTERS)


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