Homes for All #8: Amsterdam with Tracy Metz

Homes for All is a video series commissioned by Stadsleven in which correspondents from all over the world report on the state of the housing market in their city. In episode 8, journalist Tracy Metz, host of Stadsleven, shows us the growing inequality in Amsterdam.

Blog written by: Sanne van der Beek

Not enough Amsterdam to go round

Amsterdam is a popular city. In the Netherlands, it’s the number one city people want to live in. And it ranks high in the list of attractive, livable cities worldwide.

And so it’s become almost impossible to buy a house in Amsterdam – also given the fact that over half the dwellings in the city are low- and middle income rentals. In 2017 the housing prices in Amsterdam were 22% higher than in 2016. You not only have to have a lot of money, you have to be quick as well: houses here sell on average within 25 days. Also the rental market offers no solution: a rental price of at least 1000 euro for an apartment of 40 m2 is quite normal. For low- and middle income apartments the wait can be as long as 14 years

But despite the crazy prices, demand continues to grow. Every year 11.000 new inhabitants throng to the city. In 2010, 767.000 people lived here, in 2017 that is almost 845.000. More than half of the new arrivals are young, between the 20 and 30. Ten years ago buyers could choose from 30 houses, now only from 2.6. More demand = less choice.

So we need more housing, especially since construction ground to a halt during the recent crisis. Amsterdam is scrambling to catch up: it plans to build at least 50.000 new houses before 2025 in areas around the center. The city is discovering all sorts of places where it can add housing – the business park Sloterdijk, for example, is to be transformed into a lively mix of housing and offices. But it’s not enough, says professor Peter Boelhouwer of the Technical University in Delft. “In the Netherlands, we are building between 50.000 -55.000 homes, but we need at least 80.000“. 

Who can afford to live in Amsterdam?

“My greatest fear is that Amsterdam will become the next London“, mayor Eberhard van der Laan stated two years ago in the Stadsleven live talk show about the Unfair City. London as the nightmare scenario: a city in which only the rich can afford to live.

In Amsterdam, you indeed can see signs of the London-syndrome. Dutch newspaper Parool wrote this summer that for the first time there were less first-graders at elementary schools, because it has become virtually impossible for families to buy a house. So they leave the city for a better future (with garden) outside of Amsterdam, and new families can’t afford to buy or rent. Another factor is that investors buy houses to rent to students and expats, the two fastest growing populations in the city. 

The fear of becoming unaffordable and less diverse drove the city to set a new norm for new construction. From now on, 40% of the new houses will be controlled rent (710 euro per month), 40% for middle income (around 850 euro per month) to buy or rent . The other 20% is for the higher segment. This is the first time the city has ever mandated a quota for the middle segment.

Maybe this is the welcome first step in thinking about housing again as a fundamental human need rather than a market, as journalist Mirjam de Rijk signals in her essay.  Which is actually a tradition of the Netherlands. Just think 100 years back into history to the first Woningwet (Housing law) with which public housing for everyone, not just poor people, became a fact. After World War II, housing corporations and municipal housing companies had to ensure there were enough affordable houses for rent. The idea that the market will provide for housing, with the government taking a backseat,Factually quite young, from the beginning of 2000s.

Microhousing and friends housing

The market has an important role to play in keeping the city affordable by creating new forms of housing that better fit the demand. An example of this are the micro-apartments of less than 40 m2, which Tracy also shows in her Homes for All video. In Amsterdam alone there are seven apartment buildings of microstudios.

As research shows, 38% of the 7,7 million Dutch households consists of 1 person. In Amsterdam, and Utrecht, this percentage is over 50% and growing. The needs of single person households are different than from families. “The city is my living room”, my cousin who lives in a studio of 27 m2, once said. She doesn’t need a lot of living space or a parking spot for her car, she wants to live in a lively neighborhood in which she feels safe, has a good connection to public transit, and has a place to park her bike. Luxury housing acquires another meaning, as architecture center ARCAM write in a report on micro living. The luxury is not about square meters anymore, but about the neighborhood, or the view, or the architecture of the building or the public amenities – some which create a lively community such as the public gardens, some which are a service, such as a doorman who can pick up packages.

Not only can micro studios serve new needs, but they can also transform vacant buildings, and – if there are built flexibly – they can also contribute to a sustainable city for the future, writes Platform 31. But also on a legal level there needs to be innovation. Project developer AM created so-called Friends houses in the B’Mine-tower in the north of Amsterdam. Here each tenant has his or her own contract, so one person can move without everybody having to. 

These flexible forms of living are not only ideal for the younger crowd, but also elderly people are interested, as research of architecture studio Heren 5 shows. This target group wants to live in a lively community where you can use the extra facilities and also have informal contact with your neighbors. 

Want to know more?

  • You can find other episodes of our Homes for All video series here.
  • In the live talkshow on September 28th, ‘Wij Willen Wonen’, we’ll discuss the overheated housing market in big cities, in the Netherlands and elsewhere, and will look at alternative solutions.