De staat en de privatisering van woningen

One of the greatest myths upheld by advocates of neoliberal capitalism is that corporations and their owners prefer to operate in an environment with as little state involvement and influence as possible. In reality the state and the private sector work closely together, and the business sector profits from all kinds of subsidies and protection from the state. What the corporations insist on is that their profits are kept private, and that they pay as little taxes as possible; preferably none at all.

A very illustrative example of this collaboration is being offered at this moment in the Netherlands, where the Ministry of Home Affairs has created a special website to inform foreign investors how to profit from buying up real estate that previously belonged to the social rental sector.

The Dutch housing stock in the last century consisted largely of non-private rental housing with controlled rental prices, with a relatively large percentage of that being social housing. This stock mainly belonged to housing cooperatives (Woningcorporaties). These were large institutions based on a membership model, rooted in socialist or religious organisations. Their aim was to provide affordable housing of good quality to their constituency, and they were supported by the state through subsidies and favorable regulations. The hight of the rent was controlled by law, not only for social housing but also for a large part of the rest of the rental housing stock.

In the neoliberal era, inspired by Margaret Thatcher’s ‘Right to Own’ policies, consecutive Dutch governments, from Social Democratic to Liberal, also scaled down the construction of and support for rental and therefore social housing. The housing cooperatives had evolved into large anonymous enterprises with often thousands of houses, and were forced to sell off part of their stock. At the same time the government subsidised private ownership of houses by mortgage interest tax relief, making it possible for home owners to deduct the mortgage interest from their annual taxable income. On the other hand the government helped to increase the rental prices by introducing a new landlord levy for rental housing that did not exist before. This caused a hike in rental prices and made the construction of houses for the rental market less attractive for investors.

For different reasons, domestic investors are not very willing to invest in this sector, and with diminished political will for public housing construction, the available stock of rental houses is now running far behind the need for housing in the country. The government strategy now is to securitise the rental market, making it profitable to invest in large packages of diverse buildings with different conditions and help foreign capital to buy up houses en masse, promoted by this new website

One of the most telling quotes from the website:

‘[…] it is estimated that about 1 million regulated dwellings are of such quality that these houses can enter the non-regulated market.’

In other words: investors are encouraged to buy a house cheaply with tenants in it, and are then given the express permission to move the housing stock from the social into the non-regulated private market once the tenants have moved out.

The result is that these private financiers can get hold of large amounts of real estate that has been built and maintained with public money. For the investors this will only be profitable if they can raise the rent and reduce the maintenance costs. This will be the effect for people living in the houses, if they can still afford that and who in many cases have the greatest problems to track down who their new owner are.