Difficulties for Women to Secure Housing in Japan

Freelance Writer

【The article below is the same as the article that appears in the thirteenth issue of the CGS Newsletter.】

●For women to secure housing
'I got married...' My friend, a self-proclaimed feminist, said those words somewhat apologetically when she phoned me a few years ago. Upon further questioning, she confessed that she'd had great difficulty in renting a new house and marrying the man she'd been seeing at the time had turned out to be an easy way to solve her problem. Back then it didn't make much sense to me, but now I can understand. In fact, it is my father, acting as my guarantor, who has enabled my own single lifestyle. Without the existence of a father or a husband, it is almost impossible for a woman in Japan to live even in a shabby apartment. How can single women or elderly women secure housing for themselves? I am growing increasingly discouraged as I wonder about my own future.

●Housing Policy in Japan
Rent is simply too expensive in Japan. Why should housing, an absolute necessity in our lives, be such a heavy burden for us? The so-called housing policy of the Japanese government after WWII has simply been one of "home ownership" for middle-class families and cannot be regarded as a true housing policy. The underlying assumption of the policy is that people should follow a certain path in life: find a job with a steady income, get married, have children and eventually take out a loan to purchase one's own home. The average rate of home ownership hovers at 60%, but this declines to below 50% for those aged 39 or younger, with an increase in the rate of private rental housing.
However, public housing accounts for only 6% of the total rental housing in Japan, and it is mainly for the elderly, the disabled, and single mothers. In 1996, the income eligibility requirement for public housing applications was lowered from the lowest 80% of the income stratum to the lowest 25%. Tokyo Metropolitan housing (public housing owned by the metropolitan government) has seen no new construction since 2000 and there has been a 32.1-fold increase in competition for the existing places. Women under the age of 60 are not even eligible to apply.

●An alternative option: House-sharing
So, how and where do "mere women" manage to secure housing for themselves? Many of them probably still live with their parents, but more and more women in urban areas are now choosing to house-share with friends or other people. I myself shared a 3DK apartment with three of my friends for four years. Our rules were as follows: divide the rent according to the space we occupied, divide costs for utilities and internet evenly, buy our own food and take responsibility for buying communal household items when they were required. House-sharing enables people to secure high quality housing that they could not normally afford on their own. Yet, it was only possible for us to share a house (and even keep a pet!) because we were Japanese nationals who could provide income verification and had proper guarantors.
House-sharing businesses that target women have begun to emerge in recent years. Tulip Estate, for instance, claims to "provide secure, comfortable and convenient accommodation in Tokyo, as well as an opportunity to invest for your own dreams, even on a woman's salary." The business is flourishing with hardly any vacancies. Although the rent is higher than ordinary house-sharing with friends, they are commendable for providing an emergency housing option for women at a relatively low initial cost.
The imperative is, however, to enable everyone to secure accommodation no matter how they choose to live their lives. Leaving it up to the market will continue to result in the exclusion of the have-nots. Countries such as France and Sweden have established housing subsidy systems with recipients numbering over 20% of the population. Japan should also establish a similar system and increase the number of public housing. We need a housing policy that is not influenced by one's life path or lifestyle.
So far, the Japanese housing market has targeted only families and individuals planning to have families in future. The establishment of a policy that is not rooted in the 'family norm' is vital in order to ensure the right of residence for everyone, including single women.