Media Mix, Jan. 10, 2021

Internet cafe

Here’s this week’s Media Mix about the government’s extension of a tax break for home buyers. Due to end-of-year deadlines, the column was written at the end of 2020, about two weeks before the current state of emergency was declared, and it will be interesting to see how this SOE will affect housing in Tokyo and surrounding prefectures. As mentioned at the top of the column, remote work situations have convinced some people that they should move out of the capital, and since part of the SOE statement encourages even more working-from-home measures so as to relieve commuting stress it’s likely the exodus will continue and may, in fact, even intensify. At the same time, economic pressures brought on by the SOE may increase unemployment or push down incomes, thus making it more difficult for some workers to make their rent or mortgage payments. The only news reports we have seen about recent foreclosures have been anecdotal and not explicitly connected to the pandemic, but in any case the government hasn’t released any statistics showing whether mortgage payment delinquencies are on the rise, but maybe it’s too soon. Reportedly, the government was planning to extend a mortgage relief measure usually implemented in the event of a disaster to cover homeowners affected by the pandemic. As mentioned in the column, the government’s rent relief program has been extended until March. In mid-December, Tokyo announced it was making about 1,000 “rooms” available for homeless people, most of them in hotels, but they would only be available for a month. If more renters are kicked out of their apartments, 1,000 rooms would seem to be hardly enough (the cost to the prefecture, according to media reports, is about ¥500 million), even if the program were extended beyond one month. Also, many part-timers and occasional workers who live in Tokyo spend their nights at places like internet cafes, whose situation during the SOE hasn’t been clearly explained. If they are closed, or their hours attenuated, then a large number of these people will be literally left out in the cold. The authorities’ general negligence when it comes to rental policy and affordable housing becomes even more of problem during a crisis like this pandemic, and as with the spread of the virus, the matter of shelter for people of less means is likely to get worse before it gets better. 

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