A short overview of Public Housing in the Netherlands.

In preparation of a workshop of the ‘militant research’ network on the socialisation of housing) for the retakethe.city event in Amsterdam October 25…

There is no other country that has achieved as much affordable social housing as the Netherlands. In the Netherlands, almost one in three houses is a social housing unit. Austria is a good second country with almost a quarter, but in most western countries it is about 10 to 15 percent of the housing stock.

But also in the Netherlands this attainment is under heavy pressure and the percentage of (social) rental housing is declining or becoming more precarious.

In order to understand the specific situation of social and public housing in the Netherlands, it is good to look at its development.

As for the situation in Amsterdam:

“On 1 January 2018 there were 166,299 houses and at the beginning of this year there were 166,333. This means that the decline in the housing stock of social housing corporations has been halted after declining more than 25 years” (source: website of Amsterdam) However, the growth is partly due to the production of smaller and temporary units (for students and refugees). Also there is a clear trend to demolish or sell the social housing stock in the center of town, and replace to outside of the Highway Ring.

But first the history

As early as mid 1800, the first ‘charitable’ housing was built, mostly by the owners of factories for the workers who worked there.

Then the ‘pillars’ (religious, liberal, social and humanist) started associations for housing for their members. Initially, this was only small-scale housing construction. But the model: housing associations for members became the standard.

At the end of 1800 there was a strong rise of radical left-wing organizations and revolutionary demands, there was a great deal of pressure on ‘the state’ to solve the poverty and misery. Liberalism also got less and less support, it was the origin of the concept of ‘public housing’.

The Housing Act 1901 was a major compromise, actually it was a ‘Public Private Partnership’ from the outset, but with that it became official policy that the government supported housing.

According to the Canon Volkshuisvesting) (Canon volkshuisvesting Canon Public Housing has been developed with support of the Ministry of Interior, Aedes (Umbrella organisation of Housing Corporations) and 16 Housing Corporations)

Although the Housing Act made public housing a ‘matter for the government’, in its implementation it was a ‘task for municipalities’. They were then expected to give ‘the private initiative’ all the space it needed. The government therefore explicitly did not regulate public housing itself, as in the United Kingdom, for example. In order to stimulate private initiative, the government made loans available through municipalities to housing associations approved by the government (jargon: ‘approved’) (end of quote).

State housing

After World War 1, the municipality also started to build its own houses (Wie Bouwt? Wibaut)

Canon: It was not only in Amsterdam that a socialist wind was blowing shortly after the First World War. In cities like Groningen, Rotterdam, Haarlem, Utrecht, Hilversum and The Hague, too, the city council started building housing – often only after intense debates in the city council. Of the 25,000 homes built in the Netherlands in 1920, more than 13,000 were from housing corporations and some 8,000 by municipalities. Quite often it is the SDAP aldermen who take the lead in this, which is why we do speak of ‘aldermen’s socialism’.


In the course of the 1920s, the government rapidly phased out support measures for the construction of housing and the private sector was given a new lease of life. This can be seen, for example, from the construction figures for 1939: of the 37,000 new homes built in that year, only 2,000 have been built by corporations and 1,000 by municipal housing companies. This ratio only changed after the Second World War during the reconstruction.

During the crisis in the 1930s, there was an outright tenant uprising. This was repressed brutally


After the Second World War there was an extra urgent need for housing, becouse many had been destroyed in the war. This gave the local governments a new rol in building. And after that:

(Canon) From the 1970s onwards, the corporations, especially the classical mass family building and the municipal housing companies, continued to carry out more and more maintenance and renovation and special construction. Because people with non-standard housing needs are the first to turn to municipalities. So housing companies are automatically given a role in these new developments: housing for single and double households, participation in urban renewal, the purchase of squatted buildings, new forms of management.

The social-democratic periods (after the Second World War and after the Second World War) in which the government is responsible for part of the housing provision are of short duration.

(Canon:) In the mid-1980s, the role of municipal housing companies gradually became obsolete. About three hundred municipal housing companies with almost 400,000 dwellings had to become independent of the local government. Privatisation: a lot of benefit is expected from this in the no-nonsense Lubbers cabinets. In 1989, State Secretary Enneüs Heerma (1944-1999) laid the foundations for the independence of the housing corporations in the 1990s with his memorandum on Housing in the 1990s. In this new vision, there is no longer any room for municipal housing companies. On 1 January 1997, the vast majority of the housing companies continued to operate as independent ‘authorised institutions’ or their home ownership was transferred to other housing corporations.

Conclusion (Canon): In recent years, it has become increasingly clear that local authorities have also lost an instrument in their housing market policy in the form of the abandonment of their own housing companies. For example, in the first ten years of the twenty-first century, the affordability of housing is a growing problem, while rents are rising as a result of government policy. In Amsterdam (left-wing) voices are calling for the municipality to set up its own housing company in order to build affordable housing. In Assen, too, these voices are heard as an opportunity not to leave the building land purchased by the municipality unused. But it has not (yet?) got any further than individual remarks. (end quote canon)

And focus on home ownership

Since the 1970s, policy has increasingly focused on home ownership (e.g. mortgage interest deduction) and in recent years has also been accompanied by making rents expensive (VVD policy), limiting access to social housing, and eroding tenant rights (e.g. all kinds of temporary leases, campus contracts, now also ‘suitable housing’).

As for the role over government: (wikipedia)

In the early 1990s, it was both municipal and national policy to ensure a clear division of tasks between the housing corporations and the municipality, and to ensure greater independence for the municipality in the distribution of the scarce social housing units. The municipality’s action as a social landlord did not fit in with this.

On 17 December 1992, the Amsterdam City Council therefore decided that the Municipal Housing Company would be privatised. On 31 December 1993 it continued as an independent foundation under the name Stichting Het Woningbedrijf Amsterdam. Between 2004 and 2014, this foundation merged with housing corporations in Almere, Amsterdam, Alkmaar, Haarlem, Haarlemmermeer and Weesp to form the current Ymere Foundation, creating one of the largest housing corporations in the Netherlands (Wikipedia over Gem Woningbedrijf Amsterdam https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gemeentelijk_Woningbedrijf_Amsterdam).

Policy is now: (Quote Griffioen/Heykamp):

*) The forced abandonment of the better quality social housing;

*) Making expensive housing the norm;

*) The financialization of housing.

Also take note that:

The Netherlands has 3.2 million rental properties, of which 2.7 million are in the social sector. According to the Cabinet, up to 1 million social housing units are of such a quality that they can be liberalised. Read: that means that they are to be transferred to the private sector, which means a rent increase of 20 to 25 percent. So: more margin. Investors from the Netherlands and abroad will be thrilled by so much potential. Mirjam de Rijk (a series of articles in the weekly De Groene Amsterdammer):

Mirjam de Rijk: Since 2009, the number of social housing units owned by housing corporations has fallen by 260,000, from 2.27 million to 2.01 million in 2015, due to sales and ‘liberalisation’. While the number of people dependent on such a house increased by several hundred thousand during the same period.

Since the beginning of 2011, households with a combined gross income of 36,000 euros or more (net 2400 per month) are no longer eligible for social rent housing, and are dependent on a privately owned house or a house for rent from a private landlord. In many cities, commercial rentals can easily cost you 1500 euros or more per month, and houses for sale are unaffordable. (…)

The main idea is that the ‘market’ – i.e. real estate developers and investors – should take over the work of housing associations as much as possible.


Moreover, the policy line – social rent is only available for the lowest incomes, more market, higher rents – was started earlier.

Minister Blok (from the neoliberal VVD, Kees) actually wanted to force the corporations to sell one million homes, according to a leaked article in spring 2013. As far as he was concerned, corporations would only manage rental homes for the very lowest incomes (roughly 22,000 gross for single persons, 30,000 for multi-person households, those entitled to rent allowances). All other homes, and their rent levels, had to be left to the market forces of supply and demand.

Quoting an article by Justus Uitermark: In the late 1980’s, the Amsterdam government had protested against the national policies to privatize the housing market, but during the course of the 1990s it began to adopt such policies. The government no longer considered the large stock of social housing as an achievement of social struggles, but instead came to view that stock as an impediment to awell-functioning housing market. (Justus Uitermark, An in memoriam for the just city of Amsterdam, Justus Uitermark)

In addition, European legislation was going to restrict state subsidies to housing. (Canon) : In the end it was Minister Eberhard van der Laan who managed to force a breakthrough in 2009. He agreed that an income limit would be applied when allocating new housing. At least 90 percent of the rental homes with a rent below the maximum rent subsidy limit (then € 648, now € 711 in 2015) must be allocated to households with an income of up to € 33,000 (now almost € 35,000) when they become available. This means that more than 40 percent of Dutch households still qualify for social housing. The other 10 percent of the vacant homes could be allocated to people with a higher income.

(Note: also important, according to canon: A ‘Berlin wall’ had to be built between strict social housing activities (in jargon SGEI: Services of General Economic Interest) and commercial (non-SGEI) activities. )

Conclusion: the ‘subprime’ crisis of 2008 provided the opportunity to apply a crowbar for neoliberal shock therapy. Housing company Vestia threatened to fall because she had been speculating on the financial markets. In order to save her, the joint housing corporations had to pay the price and part of the social housing stock (10,000 houses) was thrown on the market.

These are the homes that were first bought by Round Hill Capital and then sold on to the Swedish town of Heimstaden ten years later (see https://www.globalhousingdebt.org/nl/zweedse-investeerders-en-de-grote-uitverkoop-van-woningen/).

Now both domestic (Pinnacle of Prince Bernhard cs) and foreign (the whole series, and now also Blackstone) enter the Dutch housing market. Securitisation of the mortgage market makes this possible, but also the deregulated housing market. The CEO of the large German real estate company Vonovia stated at his last shareholders’ meeting that the Dutch market is being watched with eager eyes and that he is waiting for “favourable developments” in order to take action there.

They therefore partly determine the fate of the housing in the Netherlands by trading in privately owned and real estate for commercial rental. Non- or less commercial rental, so-called social housing, is becoming increasingly difficult to access due to scarcity and restrictive regulations. At the same time, the rights of tenants are eroding and temporary contracts are increasingly becoming the norm.

This is a perfect challenge for movements for affordable housing for everyone and a good reason for all to carry the battle cry “socialise housing throughout Europe”



*) Canon Volkshuisvesting Nederland https://www.canonsociaalwerk.eu/nl_vhv/details.php?cps=3&canon_id=265

*) An in memoriam for the just city of Amsterdam, Justus Uitermark

Click to access uitermark-city-2009.pdf

*) Erik Duivenvoorde: Een Voet Tussen de Deur


*) Te koop: de sociale huurwoningen van Nederland (prijs: meer ongelijkheid)

Roel Griffieoen en Abel Heijkamp, De correspondent

* Serie Mirjam de Rijk in de Groene Amsterdammer

* Wet: Besluit toegelaten Besluit toegelaten instellingen volkshuisvesting 2015



Foto: PicasdreEigen werk Complex gemeentewoningen in Transvaalbuurt Amsterdam van architect Jan Gratama aan de Schalk Burgerstraat, hoek Transvaalstraat

(CC BY-SA 3.0 wikipedia)