It is difficult to understand in times of great housing shortage: houses that are empty for months or sometimes even years. According to Statistics Netherlands, in 2022, 60,000 homes will be vacant for more than a year. Amsterdam has the most vacant homes and is experimenting with the strictest vacancy rules in the Netherlands.
More than 7,500 homes in the capital have been empty for at least a year, according to calculations by Statistics Netherlands. That while the city is short of 250,000 homes. “We are seeing perhaps the most serious excesses of the housing crisis in the Amsterdam housing market,” says Zita Pels, alderman for Public Housing in Amsterdam.
Although the number of vacant homes in the Netherlands has decreased in 2022 and compared to the previous year, many properties are still vacant. In addition to homes, this also applies to offices and shops. At the beginning of 2022, 219,000 properties were unused, of which 180,000 were homes.
Every home counts, says Pels. She calls it intolerable that houses are empty, purely to be able to earn more money. “Vulnerable Amsterdammers, but also the people we desperately need – cleaners, road workers, teachers and nursing staff – cannot find a place in our city. That is harrowing.”
Vacancy instead of rental
Residents can report it to the municipality if they suspect that a home is vacant. Enforcers will then check whether that is really the case. “Some use it as an investment. They think: I’ll leave my house empty for ten years and over the years it will be worth more,” explains an enforcer. “They don’t rent out, because they might be afraid that they won’t be able to get rid of the tenants.”
Two years ago, Amsterdam policy ensured that almost five hundred empty houses are inhabited again, compared to six hundred last year. But the municipality wants more: since the end of last year, the minister has allowed Amsterdam to experiment with the strictest vacancy rules in the Netherlands.
If a home has been vacant for more than six months, the home owner must report this. Otherwise, he will be fined 9,000 euros. If there is no good reason for the vacancy, the house must be made available for rent quickly and the municipality can nominate someone and determine a rent.
‘Housing is desperately needed’
According to alderman Pels, this new regulation has a deterrent effect on homeowners. “We notice that they think: I have to take this into account, because it is not just paying a fine once, someone is actually coming to live. A home is simply not intended as a revenue model. We simply need these homes very badly .”
In Laren, the share of vacant homes is 3.5 times greater than in the rest of the country. Much to Mr. Lunter’s frustration. Every day he walks past a house that has not been inhabited for 30 years. Michael works as an enforcer for the municipality of Amsterdam, and checks whether a house is really empty:
Housing shortage? Waiting lists? No one has lived here for 30 years
Vacancy is certainly not only an issue in Amsterdam, but there are still only a handful of municipalities that have a so-called vacancy ordinance. This is necessary to maintain vacancy. The rest cannot or will not be used by the officials.
In Rotterdam, more than six thousand houses have been empty for at least a year. The municipality thinks this is mainly due to renovations. “We do not experience the vacancy as such a big problem that it would justify the deployment of civil servants,” says the municipality.
Housing minister Hugo de Jonge finds it “worrying” that not all major cities have a vacancy ordinance (vacancy policy). He talks to them. With this he is carrying out a parliamentary motion of the SP. He also has CBS investigate the exact situation of the 60,000 homes that have been vacant for at least a year.
Martijn van de Bond Precarious Housing Forms in Rotterdam stands up for people who live temporarily, insecurely or too expensively. There are no official figures about squatting in Rotterdam, but Martijn sees it happening more and more due to the housing shortage. “I understand that the municipality does not have the people for it, but I think if they don’t do it, people will do it themselves.”
Squatters are also having an increasingly difficult time. Last summer, a stricter squatting law came into force. Before that law came into effect, the Public Prosecution Service in Rotterdam applied for an average of one eviction per year. This year the counter is already at seven.
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