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USJI Voice Vol.5

Revitalization of Public Housing to Create Care Bases for Senior Citizens

2015.01.14
Dr. SAYAKA FUJII
Tsukuba University

1. Demographic changes and creation of care bases for senior citizens in public housing

According to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research (NIPSSR), the percentage of the Japanese population 65 years old or older, which was already the highest in the world, reached 25.1% in 2013. Furthermore, estimates call for this percentage to continue increasing to 33.4% in 2035 and 39.9% in 2060. While population aging is now more significant in rural areas, more rapid population aging will take place in larger cities, including Tokyo and Osaka, within ten years. Traditionally, children took care of their elderly parents at home in Japan, but with the increase in the number of nuclear families and the longer life expectancy, more elderly people are spending the final years of their lives in hospitals or nursing homes. In 1951, 82.5% of deaths occurred at home and only 9.1% in hospitals, but in 2009, 12.4% occurred at home and 78.4% in hospitals. This trend is more pronounced in larger cities. As such, providing appropriate facilities and services for elderly in large cities is becoming a pressing issue.

To address this issue, the Urban Renaissance Agency (URA), a national public housing corporation, is taking a prominent role in providing care bases for seniors by revitalizing public housing. With the support of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT), URA has started to develop nursing care and rehabilitation bases for seniors, as well as child care facilities and barrier-free units / environment in public housing properties. In 2013, MLIT allocated 3 billion yen for soliciting bids to set up care bases and 11 billion yen for coordination and planning.

URA named this project the Aging in Danchi (aging in public housing) project. URA is planning to conduct Aging in Danchi projects at 100 public housing properties by 2030 in order to offer a new model for mixed-generation communities in public housing for this era in which Japanese society is rapidly aging.

2. Comparison of public housing in the USA and Japan

Similar to the USA, many public housing units were built in Japan just after the Second World War. This was necessary as about 4.2 million units were lost during the war, equal to one-fifth of all units across the country. However, Japanese public housing is not necessarily related to low-income residents and crime, whereas public housing in the USA is often seen as locations with numerous problems such as poverty and crime.

There were 48 million housing units across Japan in 2008. About 29 millions were owner-occupied housing and the rest were rental units including public housing. There are three types of public housing in Japan: Koei housing (public housing for low-income residents owned by the municipalities), Kosha housing (public housing for middle-income residents owned by municipal public housing corporations) and Kodan housing (public housing for middle-income residents owned by a national public housing corporation). Approximately two million units are Koei housing units, 150,000 are Kosha units, and 770,000 are Kodan units.

Koei units are scattered all over the country and the average number of units per municipality is about 1,500. On the contrary, Kosha and Kodan housing units were built mainly to meet the significant housing shortage among middle income commuters in the metropolitan areas just after the war. A national public housing corporation called the Nihon Jutaku Kodan, or the Japan Housing Corporation (JHC), was established in 1955 to develop such public housing. JHC is now called URA, after several organizational reforms.

JHC and its successors developed approximately 770,000 public housing units in the suburbs of large cities in the 1960s and 1970s. JHC’s new housing units modeled for nuclear families, with western style kitchens and bed rooms in concrete apartment buildings, symbolized a new life style at a time when one-story wooden houses with tatami rooms were common. JHC built not only houses, but also shops, community facilities, schools, parks and streets, incorporating the latest western theories and ideas into their projects, including neighborhood units and pedestrian networks. JHC’s public housing became the leading developments with relatively good living environments during Japan’s period of high economic growth in the 1960s and 1970s.

As the housing shortage was eliminated towards the end of 1970s, the role of JHC gradually shifted from public housing construction to infrastructure development and inner city urban redevelopment. In addition, the number of newly built public housing units declined sharply in 1980s due to the growth of the private sector and less pressing demand for housing. At the same time, JHC was reformed to become the Housing and Urban Development Corporation in 1981, then to the Urban Development Corporation in 1999, with a focus more on urban redevelopment in downtown areas and brownfields. In 2001, URA withdrew from new public housing development and now only redevelops and renovates existing housing stock, which are now characterized by rapid aging of their resident populations and high vacancy rates.

3. Revitalization of public housing to create care bases for senior citizens

Although JHC’s public housing properties offer good living environments, many of them are located in municipalities where the populations are aging rapidly. In the Aging in Danchi project, URA commits to efforts to create senior-friendly housing through various public housing revitalization projects. In such projects, URA aims for four improvements: (1) renovating the interiors and exteriors of housing units to make them barrier-free for the elderly, (2) providing services and support for senior residents, (3) creating bases for seniors, and (4) encouraging resident participation in renovation and redevelopment projects.

There are about 1,740 URA public housing properties across Japan. In terms of revitalization scale, the target of this project is properties with over 1,000 housing units. There are 200 properties with more than 1,000 housing units and URA was working on the creation of care base in 23 public housing properties as of October 2014. URA is planning to conduct Aging in Danchi projects in 100 public housing properties by 2030.

To create barrier-free environments, URA is renovating public housing by removing barriers both inside and outside housing units. It is also installing elevators and emergency buzzers inside the buildings and providing regular monitoring and living support services for elderly residents by collaborating with attendant service providers at the care bases. URA is creating care bases including day care, nursing homes, attendant service stations, community centers, and facilities for elderly. The sizes of care bases vary according to the size of each public housing property, but it is 5 to 20 ha with senior housing units between 50-300 (incl. nursing homes). Before building the bases, URA invites public housing residents to participate in the planning process. The participation process differs for each property, but they usually discuss future plans, unit designs, the relocation plan, and the preservation of vegetation and facilities. If there is a resident association, the representative of the association joins the decision making process together with local municipal planners. Moreover, URA provides a database of housing properties that have care services and facilities for elderly people, so that elderly people can choose adequate homes for their final years.

URA revitalization projects offer three advantageous for the elderly. Firstly, the concentration of elderly residents in URA properties is relatively high. In some URA properties, around 30% of the residents are elderly. There are even some properties where this population is over 40%. Therefore, it is efficient and effective to build care base in these properties. Secondly, it is possible to build care facilities on land inside URA public housing properties so the land costs are relatively inexpensive and sometimes even free. This is especially effective because many URA properties are located in large cities where the aging population is increasing and the shortage of facilities is becoming more pronounced. Finally, URA public housing offers many benefits to residents, including green landscapes and close-knit communities. Besides, many URA properties are not densely developed, so they can accommodate more buildings within each property.

MHLW recently reported that the number of people on waiting lists for special nursing homes was over 523,584 in 2014, which was an increase from 421,000 in 2009. Special nursing homes cost far less than private nursing homes, so applicants usually outnumber the open spaces. Among those on the waiting list, 259,830 were living at home, including 67,000 who had level 4 or 5 certification for long-term care needs, meaning that they need support for their daily lives. The shortage of nursing facilities is becoming more severe as the aging of society progresses. For example, in Tokyo, the number of people 75 or older will increase from 1.23 million in 2010 to 1.97 million in 2025. Nevertheless, there are approximately 450 nursing homes which together can only accommodate 40,000 people, but there were already 43,384 seniors on waiting lists in 2014.

To meet the increasing demand for nursing homes, municipal governments are making various efforts such as providing financial support, relaxing facility standards and leasing public land lots to elderly care service providers. However, because of high land prices and limited available land, overcoming this nursing home shortage will not be easy. URA’s revitalization of public housing to create care bases for senior citizens has just started, but it offers relatively cheap land for developing the needed facilities. It is just the very first step, but a meaningful step toward meeting the shortage of facilities within a rapidly aging society.

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