The housing shortage is hip. The sob stories of young people who are stuck and have been sleeping on the couch with friends for months are flying around you, with the hopeful people at the other end of the spectrum feel good items about new innovative forms of living.
It is precisely these new forms of housing that should provide the generation of stuck home seekers with a ray of hope that they will one day be able to live somewhere where they do not have to pay half of their salary to a foreign investor. Tiny houses, vanlifers, eco-villages or co-living, these new forms of housing are reviewed almost weekly in the media and are often labeled as the solution to the housing shortage that has gotten out of hand. After all, the Netherlands is full, and creative use of the space we still have is the only remedy. But the real battle against this housing crisis is not being fought from a vacant piece of land that is temporarily being used as a tiny house arena. The real housing struggle gets to the root of the problem; our people's representatives.
Bottle of wine for the golden tip
Many wonder why the 'real' housing struggle is taking so long. Home seekers seem to tacitly accept the fact that their position in the housing market is a deeply rooted revenue model for the rest of the population. After all, most don't know any better. The fact that as a starter you have to look for a new home every year because your landlord only issues temporary contracts, seems to many to be the most normal thing in the world. For the generation following the introduction of the Rental Market Flow Act started in 2016 with the impossible search for a rental home, the thorough rent protection of that time, with indefinite contracts and relocation allowances, is no more than a nostalgic fairy tale from a distant past. Losing your home is therefore seen by many tenants as an unavoidable, individual problem, and a solution is often only sought afterwards. “Does anyone have a room available? We have to leave our house in 2 weeks and have not found anything yet, bottle of wine for the golden tip !!!” The customer review has been automatically translated from Dutch., it reads on Facebook.
An organization that helps tenants to do things differently is the Bond Precaire Woonvormen (BPW). This residents' association will not help you with your search for a new flex cabin or temporary tiny house pitch. There is a second option, besides calling on the hospitality of your friends via Facebook. Namely, confronting your landlord and local politicians with the question of why they think it is permissible to make vulnerable residents homeless, so that another €200 per month can be asked for the next hopeless home seeker that comes along. And if your landlord doesn't feel it necessary to explain his motives for making you homeless, then you call on the solidarity network of the Bond and you go with 30, 40 men, banners and a megaphone to tell a story. This is the real housing struggle, which the BPW has been waging for more than 10 years.
Primary homeless prevention
With strong growing local groups In the major cities and a national network, the Bond PrecaireWoonvorm is for anyone who rents temporarily, insecurely or too expensively. And there are many these days. When organizations such as the Huurcommissie, Woonbond or municipal aid agencies advise you to report to the homeless shelter after the expiry of a temporary rental contract, the BPW takes action. Almost every week they campaign somewhere in the Netherlands against eviction. Anti-squat contracts expiring without offering alternative housing, residents of social housing estates who are evicted from their homes by the municipality and corporations to make way for the private or free sector, or tenants who otherwise unceremoniously end up on the street. All kinds of precarious rents pass by and the BPW will not let anyone down, as long as the residents themselves are willing to take action together and join the broad solidarity network. For tenants, by tenants.
The government is doing almost nothing to accommodate the increase of brand new homeless people. In fact, it only exacerbates the problems. Since 2010, there have been numerous legislative changes that have gradually pushed the position of tenants further into perdition, resulting in a doubling of the number of homeless people. The sky-high tax on social rental housing, the anti-squat law, the introduction and further normalization of temporary contracts, market forces and the complete handing over of the housing stock to foreign investors. Even though the housing crisis seems to be a top priority for almost every political party, the list of failed policy measures is long and has only been added to until now.
Battle from below
This is precisely the reason why these innovative 'solutions' to the housing crisis do not help. It places the responsibility for looking for solutions on the citizens, while our representatives from above throw some extra fuel on the fire. When we settle for this failing policy, by looking for alternatives ourselves, we give the impression that we think it's okay that our government no longer treats housing as a human right, but as an individual responsibility. That is why the housing struggle fought in our working-class neighbourhoods, by residents' organizations and solidarity networks, is the only way out of this artificially created crisis.
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Opinion article by housing rights activist and BPW member Nick van Balken commissioned for Het Actiefonds