Rental agencies on Okinawa protest new military housing policy
Stars and Stripes August 9, 2009
OKINAWA CITY — Alarmed by a new policy that requires all incoming military families to live in base housing, rental agencies are lobbying Okinawa and Tokyo officials to urge the U.S. military to suspend the rule.
They want their representatives to apply pressure to Air Force officials who put the new policy into effect Aug. 1. They also want a suspension of all new housing projects on the bases.
"For more than 50 years, we have been engaged in the business of offering rental homes to people in the U.S. military community on Okinawa," stated an All Okinawa Housing Association petition presented Wednesday to Okinawa City Mayor Mitsuko Tomon.
"If the policy is implemented, a great amount of rental homes will be left vacated, seriously threatening the basis of our livelihood."
The group intends to file similar requests with the Okinawa Bureau of the Ministry of Defense, Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima, the Okinawa prefectural assembly and the mayors of cities and towns where the rental homes for Americans are concentrated.
About 11,900 Americans on Okinawa under the Status of Forces Agreement — married and single — live in more than 7,119 off-base housing units, said association chairman Junichi Kiyan. Many of the homes have been built specifically to American standards in the past five years or so.
Some housing agents said the new rule could reduce the number of off-base units rented to Americans to under a thousand.
The Air Force could save more than $30 million annually by mandating that military families live on base, Lt. Col. David Wilder, commander of the 718th Engineer Squadron, told Stars and Stripes when the policy was announced.
The Air Force maintains housing for all services on Okinawa bases.
The policy does not affect civilians.
Wilder said officials are shooting for a base occupancy rate of 95 percent, up from the current 84 percent.
"The change will create great chaos to Okinawa society," Kiyan said in an interview Thursday.
The association comprises 20 of the 50 housing agencies that cater to Americans.
He said the 7,119 units are in 23 communities and are approved by the military housing office on Kadena Air Base. The largest concentrations are in Chatan, Okinawa City, Yomitan, Uruma, Ginowan and Kitanakagusuku.
"If utilities, cleaning and other related services are included, the total economic effect is 20 billion yen ($210.5 million)," said Seijun Tokuzato, director of the association’s board.
"The great benefit to military personnel living off base, as well as the economic impact, is about to be forgotten," he said.
Officials with the 18th Wing had no comment Friday on the housing association’s concerns.
The reaction of Okinawa officials has been mixed.
Tomon said she intends to discuss the issue with her counterparts in the central part of the island, where major U.S. bases are located.