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Kobe Wants To Rebuild _ But There’s No Room

January 26, 1995

KOBE, Japan (AP) _ As Kobe rebounds from a killer quake, perhaps its biggest quandary is where to build new houses for 300,000 homeless people in a cramped city squeezed between the mountains and the sea.

Like every Japanese city, Kobe is desperately short of space. City officials have begun erecting 2,000 temporary homes on the few vacant lots and parks available, but the first ones won’t be ready until next month and the total is only a fraction of what’s needed.

Refugees, meanwhile, are growing grumpy after more than a week camped out in schools and public halls where many have been unable to bathe.

``Housing space was a big problem even before the earthquake,″ said Kazuna Mizojiri, deputy manager for Kobe’s welfare department, which is handling the housing crisis. ``Now the situation is much worse.″

At least 50,000 houses and apartments were destroyed by the Jan. 17 quake. It’s likely to take two years or more before the rubble can be cleared and large numbers of new homes built in their place, government officials say.

As one of the world’s wealthiest nations, Japan has the resources to rebuild Kobe. But there’s no apparent solution to the space shortage in a port city that’s hemmed in on all sides.

Real estate agents said a lucky few snapped up empty apartments that were undamaged by the quake, and they see virtually no prospect of a private housing market in Kobe for months.

Yukio Morishita of Konan Real Estate said he had 30 apartments to rent the day the quake flattened Kobe. Twenty apartments fell victim to the jolt, and the remaining 10 he rented almost immediately.

``There’s nothing available here,″ said Morishita. ``People will have to start looking in Osaka,″ which is 25 miles away.

Urban Life, one of the region’s top real estate firms, is renting some 50 apartments a day to quake victims, but all are at least 12 miles outside the city, said agent Taku Hirooka.

The Japanese are used to lengthy commutes and paying high prices for small apartments. In Kobe, a typical two-bedroom family apartment can easily cost $2,000 a month.

Housing prices are almost certain to go even higher as Kobe residents bid up the cost of the few available homes.

So far, officials have concentrated on clearing the rubble from public buildings. Private landowners will have to handle their own cleanup and rebuilding operations, officials say.

The housing crisis could become a mad scramble on Friday, when Kobe government offices begin taking applications for the small number of temporary houses. Officials are bracing for a flood of applications.

``We have no idea how many we’ll get, but I’m sure there will be more applications than space,″ said Mizojiri, who’s works in an office buzzing with activity on the fourth floor of City Hall.

On the ground floor, Iwao Yamane and his wife Yasuko, both 69, are among the scores of refugees camped out on the tile floor, and they’re counting the hours until they can enter the housing lottery.

``Our apartment was destroyed and we rushed out in our pajamas,″ said Yamane, huddled under a blanket.

``This is our ninth day here and we haven’t been able to change clothes or wash,″ said Mrs. Yamane. ``What I want most is to soak in a bath.″

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