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Japan’s Giving Away Thousands Of Vacant Homes

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Japan is giving away thousands of homes thanks to the country’s housing glut, where it’s estimated that one out of every seven Japanese homes has been abandoned. If you’re ok with living in a rural area and fixing up a fixer-upper, you may want to look at what the country has to offer in terms of cheap housing.

A Closer Look At Japan’s Crazy Housing Crisis

While some countries struggle with finding enough housing for its citizens, Japan is facing the unusual predicament of having too many homes and not enough people to fill them. The country went through a housing boom after World War II and again in the 1980s, but now, the country finds it has more homes than people.

Hoping to re-populate communities, local governments have attempted to entice prospective homeowners by giving away their akiya or “abandoned homes.” It’s estimated that Japan has over one million dilapidated akiya. Besides being eyesores, officials worry these abandoned structures are safety hazards, susceptible to earthquake damage, fires, water damage, pests, and vandalism.

The story of Japan’s bizarre dilemma was first mentioned around 2015 but went viral in 2019 after the nation began aggressively promoting their real estate giveaway programs. While most of these vacated properties are located in rural areas, akiya are popping up in cities, too. Anyone tempted to take over an akiya can visit one of Japan’s “akiya banks,” online sites that provide photos and property information along with any restrictions for claiming the dwelling.

Japan’s Urban Planning Problems

When it comes to akiya, several factors created Japan’s “perfect storm.” of abandoned homes. According to The Guardian, the country had 1.37 million deaths but only 921,000 births in 2018. The BBC reported that in 2018, Japan had its lowest birthrate since the government began keeping records. The ratio of births to deaths is so imbalanced, Japan estimates that 30% of its homes will be vacant by 2033.

Attracted by more lucrative job opportunities, younger people who grew up in rural areas have gravitated to larger cities in search of job opportunities. Smaller communities can’t compete with the money, jobs and entertainment options available in major metropolitan areas like Tokyo.

The result isn’t just a few scattered abandoned homes. Entire communities are turning into ghost towns as people die or move away. The situation has become so dire that the empty Japanese village of Nagoro has life-size dolls placed throughout the town’s empty homes, stores, government buildings, and schools to commemorate residents who have passed away.

Taxes are another factor. According to REThinkTokyo.com, it’s more economical to desert an akiya than inherit a family home from a loved one who’s passed away and be stuck paying Japan’s exorbitant second home tax.

Wanted: Young People And Families

Since local governments with an excess of akiya were hoping to breathe new economic and cultural life into their communities, the focus has been on attracting young adults and families. Cities have given couples with young children subsidies and incentives; the more young children in a family, the greater the enticement. The only catch: families must commit to living in the home full-time, usually for 15-20 years.

Nothing In Life Is Really Free

While the homes have been promoted as being free, you better read the fine print. Officials expect all akiya owners to pay for taxes, renovations, and repairs to bring properties up to health and safety codes. Anyone interested in taking over a farm akiya must get approval from the local farm committee, pay all necessary taxes and refurbishing costs, and agree to run a commercial farm.

In many cases, properties are “rented” out for about ¥500 (approximately $500), with the money and property title transferred to the akiya’s occupants after 15-20 years. The invitation to take over Japan’s empty homes doesn’t just apply to the country’s citizens. Foreigners are welcome in many communities as long as they abide by the same policies as their Japanese counterparts.

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