How the Dutch do Affordable Housing

“The Netherlands is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, and has a very expensive housing market.  And yet, it also provides one of the best examples in Europe of quality, well-integrated affordable housing. What can Canada learn from their example?”

The Dutch have been at this a long time.  Initial efforts to provide more affordable housing were actually started by private merchants and industrialists in the 1800s who wanted better housing for their workers.  In the early 1900s the government began to be involved, and supported the development of housing associations.  Following WWII, these Housing Associations took on a major role in helping rebuild the country’s housing stock, with intentional focus on making affordable housing accessible to low-income populations all across the country.  In the 1990s, a new deal was made with housing associations, pulling out all government subsidies in exchange for significant freedom in their continued development of housing with at least a portion of this being affordable/social housing.

In recent years, changing regulations, new government tax levies coupled with rising pressures from land scarcity and an influx of new migrants have made this work much harder.  But so much has been done right over the years that the Netherlands is handling these pressures better than many of their counterparts in the EU.


Here’s an overview of some of the history:

dutch housing history
Source:  housing-futures.org


In the Netherlands today, Housing Associations provide for around 60% of the country’s population.  Social housing accounts for 37 per cent of the total stock across the country, and as much as 75 per cent of the total rented stock.  There are well over 300 housing associations at work across the country, with at least one in every municipality.  They are required to function within governmental frameworks, but operate with some freedom, catering to market demand while carrying a social duty to provide for low-income populations.  Many of these housing associations also invest in the life and health of the local community, supporting the growth of local businesses, local schools, and local services like Libraries and community gathering spaces.

The Dutch choose Integration over Segregation
Of particular significance has been the Dutch emphasis on Integration.  Housing associations have long created sustainable mixed-income developments with breakdowns such as:  20% low income; 60% middle income; 20% high income.   In these developments, high income housing helps pay for the low income housing to make it a sustainable model for market development.  As of 1994, housing associations have been able to continue to build on this model entirely without government funding.

Now there is no magic to this model.  Tensions around race, class, faith or cultural background do not simply evaporate when people live in proximity.  These mixed income blocks in the Netherlands experience tensions between homeowners and social renters. But when there is some effort on all sides to bridge gaps, it often leads to a much better understanding of existing issues. In some settings, a community manager was employed to assist with this connection and support efforts at bridge building.

Another example of the Dutch emphasis on integration are the housing units planned and built in the floating city of IJburg (pictured below).  Home to around 20,000 people already, with around 45,000 anticipated upon completion, Housing breakdowns in Ijburg are divided into three categories: 30% of affordable rental units, 30% of private properties, and 40% of market-rate rental units. Each block in IJburg includes these three categories, mixing homeowners, social, and market-rate renters. All residents share playgrounds, courtyards, public squares, shopping centres and canals.

Dutch housing ijburg


Does integration make a difference? 
In other EU countries, like France and Sweden, market forces have largely determined where high-income and low-income housing is located.  That has led to some segregation and even the ghettoization of different populations.  That dynamic has flavoured how well these countries are able to respond to and integrate the influx of migrants and refugees.  New migrants are forced to find homes in less desirable areas of the city, where they often experience less opportunity for employment, negative stigmas, higher stress, longer commutes to work, and less access to social supports.  These challenges serve as significant barriers to healthy integration, and sometimes result in high levels of tension and conflict.  The city of London, in the United Kingdom currently struggles to bring in workers to do low-paying jobs, as local housing is so expensive and low-income workers have to commute as much as two hours.

By way of contrast, In the Netherlands migrants and other low-income populations have much greater choices available for where they can live.  They also benefit from much easier access to support services, and are naturally integrated into the fabric of the community.   Better opportunity for work and for relationship with more established Dutch neighbours makes a difference on how they think about and find their place in their new home.  As has been noted, there is no magic to this approach, and intentional efforts at community-building are necessary to make it work, but the Dutch example shows it can work well.

How do the Dutch rank in the EU on social housing?
“The data show the highest rates of satisfaction in Austria and Finland, followed by Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden – countries where the social housing sector (or actually municipal rental housing in the case of Sweden) is relatively large and typically houses a wide and diversified population group. Malta also shows a rate of satisfaction, despite having a smaller social housing sector.
Also interesting, users of social housing services tend to give higher quality ratings than non-users – showing that there is still some degree of prejudice and misconceptions about this sector in the wider public.”  (Source: http://www.housingeurope.eu/resource-1048/quality-of-life-in-the-eu)

Article by Mike Van Boom, Capital Region Interfaith Housing Initiative 


Further sources:
https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/24/greathomesanddestinations/living-above-and-below-the-waters-surface-in-amsterdam.html

https://www.smartcitiesdive.com/ex/sustainablecitiescollective/challenges-dutch-inclusive-neighborhood/202861/

https://www.wohnforum.arch.ethz.ch/sites/default/files/tagungen/tagungsbericht_regout.pdf

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