A Japanese charity based in Tokyo has recently won a major international award for its work in buying empty homes and donating it to single mothers. The non-profit organization drew limelight and attention to the stigma and daily challenges women face living in this wealthy country.
‘Little Ones’ was named winner of the World Habitat Award for turning empty and abandoned houses into a place single mothers can call home at a subsidised rate. At present, they have helped and assisted over 300 women find homes in Tokyo, Osaka and Chiba since opening in 2008. Supported by the UN Habitat, this award is given to 10 innovation housing projects every year.
“Japan has a culture that makes it difficult for women to work after having children, which makes life exceptionally hard for single mothers,” said Kunihisa Koyama, chief executive of Little Ones.
“Apartment owners often refuse single mothers because they are not considered financially stable. The social stigma, lack of economic opportunities and high costs in cities like Tokyo mean the majority of single mothers live in poverty,” he added.
As one of the wealthiest nations in the world, single mothers living in Japan are amongst the worst off. Many are often unable to find work and less than half receive alimony. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the child poverty rate coming from working single-parent households in Japan is the highest within first world nations.
According to the Ministry of Health, the single-mother households had about a 50% increase to 712,000 from 1992 to 2016 in the country. On the other hand, the rapidly ageing nation is also experiencing a growing problem with vacant and abandoned houses totalling an approximate of 9 million homes, or an equivalent of 14% housing stock.
It is foreseen that in 2033, one-third of existing Japanese homes will be vacant from the decline of their population.
A law that was passed in 2015 to promote the reuse of these empty houses has made it easier for Little Ones to collaborate with owners and the authorities to renovate them using grants from the government.
“For a single mother and her children, safe and affordable housing is a starting point, so they can move forward in their lives. Little Ones also provides a support network and other resources to the women.” Koyama told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Leilani Farha, the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing said that: The programme is an “ingenious” use of vacant homes to address the “stigmatisation and discrimination single mothers experience in access to housing.”
By renovating abandoned homes and bringing them back into use, the project is “physically improving neighbourhoods for the community at large”, the World Habitat Awards advisory group said in a statement.