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HOME NRI JOURNAL What to do about the vacant house problem in Japan?


Innovation magazine that generates hints for the future


What to do about the vacant house problem in Japan?

Wataru Sakakibara , Global Infrastructure & Energy Consulting Department


Apr. 20, 2017

A society with one in three houses vacant

——It is forecast that more than 30% of houses will be vacant in Japan by the 2030s

According to the 2013 Housing and Land Survey by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, 13.5% of houses in Japan were vacant in 2013, which was the highest level in history. According to our research, this number is set to exceed 30.4% by the year 2033 if countermeasures are not implemented.

——What does it mean for Japan to have more than 30% of its houses vacant?

Having a third of houses vacant means that on average, each home would have a vacant house next door. Unoccupied houses become sites for trash dumping, are susceptible to collapse, and attract suspicious persons. Having 30% of houses vacant is certainly not desirable from the perspective of safety and disaster prevention.

Three ideas for avoiding the problem

——What can be done to avoid such a situation?

Frankly speaking, increasing the population or stopping the population decline is the most effective measure, but doing so is difficult and takes time. The next method is to prevent a further increase in housing. This can involve (1) Removing vacant houses, (2) Restricting the building of new houses, or (3) Converting houses for something other than residential use. However, due to the economic impact of (2), rather than recklessly restricting the building of new houses, I believe it would be necessary to make it mandatory to remove an old house whenever a new one is built, or to assign areas where the building of new houses is restricted, etc.

——Are there any concrete plans for removing vacant houses?

Removal of vacant houses has not made much progress due to the cost of demolishing a house, which costs about one million yen on average. Some local governments have implemented measures for subsidizing demolition costs, but only a small number of houses are applicable, and funding is limited. There are also problems to deal with, such as the special measures for fixed asset taxes and urban planning taxes.

That is why I believe in introducing a "right to construction." A right to construction would be the privilege to build a new house, which is obtained by removing an existing house. For example, a person who owns an old house that is unlikely to be sold can pay one million yen to remove the house to obtain the right to construct a new one. That right can also be sold to a condominium developer for one million yen to recuperate the demolition costs. I believe that such a system would promote removal of vacant houses.

Creating a society that provides varied lifestyles

——What national government policies are there?

The Basic Program for Housing enacted in March 2016 identifies new policies for promoting the circulation of existing houses and the utilization of vacant houses as part of the housing policy for dealing with the low birth rate, aging society, and population decline problems facing Japan. We can tell that this is seen as an important national problem since one of the goals included in the act is to prevent an increase in vacant houses by promoting their removal*1.

——Is there anything that we can do ourselves?

In Japan, it is generally normal for each household to have a house, but we need to think more flexibly about where we live, such as changing the houses we live in according to our jobs, our lifestyle, or the season. Of course this cannot be achieved only by changing the awareness of the individual, so I think it is also important to change the systems of society to enable the selection of diverse lifestyles.

In other words, in an age where the population is no longer growing, it is necessary to change existing social systems that were created under the assumption that the population would continue to grow. The vacant house problem can be seen as one of those challenges. The efforts of Japan may hold the potential to become the global standard in such countermeasures, which will be adopted by other countries that also have a low birth rate and aging population. That is why I hope that we can create new concepts and systems that replace existing ideas.

*1 In regard to the vacant housing problem in Japan, the Basic Program for Housing attempts to limit the number of "other vacant houses" used for applications other than rent or sale to about 4 million.

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