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On-base housing rule miffs local real estate agents

Date Posted: 2009-08-13

Stunned by the military’s decision to require all inbound families to live in on-base quarters, local real estate agencies are scrambling to drum up support to get the program stopped.

There are more than 50 real estate agencies operating on Okinawa, but twenty are allied as the All Okinawa Rental Housing Association that is spearheading the effort to turn back the program the U.S. military says will save the government $30 million a year. The real estate agents complain “The American military is giving us anxiety, and threatening peoples’ lives.”

Junichi Kyan, Chairman of the All Okinawa Rental Housing Association, asks how his agencies can recoup their housing investments “if the Americans don’t come and live in our houses.” Kyan and directors in his association are petitioning local leaders to join their fight. “We have members who built the houses for military personnel, and money has been loaned from banks,” he’s told the Okinawa City Office and Mayor Mitsuko Tomon. “If nobody comes to live in these new houses, we have a really big problem, so please do something for us.”

His argument that “the Okinawa City mayor can talk to the American military and ask them to stop our predicament with the requirement they live on base” poses a problem for the often anti-military mayor, who wants the U.S. military out of her community. Kyan is calling for even stronger action than simply reversing the plan to make military personnel live on base; he wants her to “please tell the military to stop building new houses for military people on the bases, and stop renovating the houses. Stop the construction and ask the military to let people live off base.”

Tomon’s back pedaling for now, telling the All Okinawa Rental Housing Association “I understand your point and problem, but I don’t know how I can go and tell them.” She says she’ll discuss the problem with other mayors and see “what we can do.” A total of 7,110 houses exist for American military personnel in 23 different communities. Chatan Town with 1,989 residences and Okinawa City with 1,932 are the largest, with Yomitan Village having 906. Kadena Town and Ginowan City realtors say they’ve large numbers of homes available, too.

The military’s joint housing office mandated that, effective August 1st, all new personnel are required to move into on-base quarters. Once the base housing is 95% filled, options would again exist for people to live off base. The current housing occupancy rate, says the commander of the 718th Engineering Squadron, Lt. Col. David Wilder, is 84%. The realtors, for their part, contend the military decision could cost local real estate agencies and other businesses more than $210 million a year, a major impact on local communities.

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