Living vision demo Action report | Visionless housing vision from the municipality of Rotterdam adds fuel to the fire

An estimated eighty people took part last night in the militant protest action in front of Rotterdam city hall, which was organized by Woonopstand, in collaboration with the Bond Precaire Woonvorms (BPW). The action was aimed against the new housing vision of the municipality of Rotterdam, about which the city council met last night.

Report by Harry van Doorbraak – The demonstrators included activists from Residential uprising and the BPW also representatives of the SP and Rood, as well as tenants who live in precarious living conditions and pay far too high housing costs. Many militant speeches were made and slogans were shouted such as “Houses for people, not for profit!” A drum band and a siren were used to make noise so that the council members inside the town hall could hear us clearly. At the end of the action there was a riot with pushing and pulling due to the irritating presence of some extreme right-wing trolls from Ongehoord Nederland.

Photos by Joke Schot

Below is the text of Lila's speech, who spoke on behalf of the BPW. (Translated from English by Doorbraak. De original text can be read here.)

Hello, I am Lila and I am standing here today on behalf of the Bond Precaire Woonvorms (BPW), a national organization that supports tenants living in temporary and insecure living conditions in claiming their housing rights. I speak in English because these discussions should also be accessible to the people who are being scapegoated for the housing crisis: international students, migrant workers and newly arrived refugees.

In 2016, I moved with a housemate to a free market rental home in South Rotterdam, after having moved 5 times in 2.5 years through anti-squatting agencies. In 2016, the Woonvisie was openly a social cleansing policy, as evidenced by the controversial Rotterdam law, the NPRZ (National Program Rotterdam South) and the infamous invalid referendum aimed at “social cohesion” by demolishing social housing and people with low to drive income out of the city. Since 2022, the Rotterdam law only applies in selected streets and the controversial Article 8, which banned people with benefits or a criminal record, has been abolished and replaced by Article 9, which instead gives priority to residents with the desired “ socio-economic characteristics”. So technically the municipality does not actively push the poor away, but brings in the rich. Nowadays, the Housing Vision claims to provide “affordable housing”, “innovative” solutions for target groups and “good landlord behavior”. Although there is a change in the vocabulary used, there is no change in who is given priority and who is negatively affected by municipal policy.

With ambitious starters, small-scale investors and highly educated expats as the city's "desirable" population group, it is no wonder that amid a "scarcity of housing" the municipality is offering financial incentives and tax reductions to create larger homes by combining two owner-occupied homes. joints, even at the expense of “liberalized” social housing. And all this while house prices in neighborhoods like Charlois are skyrocketing, with an increase of 53 percent since 2017. You wonder: who are these “local starters” and can they “start” without having a rich family?

In the rental sector, priority is given to middle incomes, even though the middle income is not the average income in Rotterdam and a very high percentage of residents fall well below that limit, despite the fact that they have a full-time job. Rents have also skyrocketed, with an increase of more than 35 percent in the past ten years. Nationally, more than 800,000 people do not have enough money to live on after paying their rent. Once again you wonder: who benefits from including middle-income housing in the “affordable” label?

Housing has not only become more expensive, but also increasingly temporary. Safe, affordable housing, such as social housing, is deliberately restricted, demolished, sold or liberalized into the overpriced private rental sector. By the way, “liberalization” is a huge misnomer, rather it is the opposite, homes are taken out of the commons and become private property, making it harder to regulate and even get tenant protection from the Rent Assessment Board. Alderman Zeegers thinks that the solution for more social housing lies in the 2,000 container homes of the StartR flex homes that are planned in Feyenoord, Hoogvliet and possibly De Esch and Delfshaven. These temporary tiny homes cannot count as social housing.

In the past, it used to be students, temporary workers and people in anti-squatting who, whether they wanted to or not, had a temporary contract. Nowadays, it is estimated that almost half of private and increasingly social rental properties have a temporary and uncertain contract. The municipality encourages “innovative solutions” for multiple forms of flexible housing for “target groups” such as students, temporary employees and status holders to solve the housing shortage. There is nothing innovative about precarity. Even with the Permanent Rental Contracts Act, which comes into effect on July 1 and seeks to put a stop to the proliferation of temporary contracts, a series of exceptions are being drawn up, including students, both international and local.

Temporary rental was supposed to promote a better distribution of the scarce housing stock. In practice, however, this leads to rising rents and uncertainty for more tenants. Another excuse for the proliferation of flexible housing was that it prevented vacancy. Since the introduction of the Anti-Squatting Act in 2010 and further bans in 2021, the vacancy problem has not been resolved. Instead, these policies have increased homelessness and housing shortages and punished the victims. It criminalized squatters and allowed a proliferation of effectively criminal anti-squatting agencies that exploit tenants with dangerously poorly maintained properties without rights. Homelessness has doubled since 2010, while more than 100,000 homes remain empty. So with the demolition of public housing, the increase in temporary rentals and the artificial creation of scarcity, different groups are played off against each other. No, the housing shortage is not caused by asylum seekers! It is not the fault of international students, immigrants or squatters. It is the result of a conscious policy by the people behind me in this building who can actually solve it. Even more unsafe, temporary, overpriced housing solutions fuel this housing crisis and are presented as a solution. The visionless housing vision only adds fuel to the fire.

But is there also a shortage of solutions? No! Woonrevolt came up with this list of nine demands in 2021, supported by more than 160 organizations nationally, including the BPW.

We demand:

  1. Housing policy that guarantees availability, affordability and housing security! Increase the social housing stock, create truly affordable housing and ban temporary contracts.
  2. Housing First principle! This means no evictions and lifting of the squatting ban. How do you solve vacancy and homelessness together? Decriminalize squatting and squatting on vacant properties.
  3. Investments in widely accessible public housing. Social housing was not only accessible to people with the lowest income. The middle segment also benefits from not paying 60 percent of their salary in rent.
  4. Absolutely no discrimination, more homes for people with disabilities and a complete ban on the Rotterdam law. People should be able to choose where they live.
  5. Full control and independent support of residents over renovation plans for their homes, streets and neighborhoods. No decisions about us, without us!
  6. Stop financing and speculation, which includes freezing rents for five years, banning overseas investors, expanding the law that forces homeowners to actually live in their homes, citywide.
  7. Limit market forces! This means also regulating rents in the private sector, making the points system binding, and punishing landlords who continue to engage in malpractice. The municipality must also stop being complicit with criminal anti-squatting agencies, stop collaborating, and encourage housing associations to do the same.
  8. Give space, land and a viable legal position to housing cooperatives with full control over their rents. These are real cooperatives, not a watered-down version where you have no ownership and only get ten to fifteen year contracts.
  9. Reversal flexibilization and guarantee housing security: fixed rental contracts and permanent housing for everyone, without exceptions.

But we cannot leave our right to housing to the government alone. What can we do?

  • We can organize ourselves at city level in solidarity networks, such as BPW, or join an active tenants' association.
  • We must build a solidarity infrastructure to stop evictions. So much has already been achieved through direct action and mutual aid.
  • We must resist gentrification in our neighborhoods and in our workplaces. We must try to understand how each of us is complicit in this and try to act within our sphere of influence.
  • Finally, we must dream big. In Berlin, tenants are getting closer to forcing the government to expropriate big speculators and put housing back into public hands. In Vienna, tenants are taking back control of housing by setting up housing cooperatives. We can't wait and beg for our housing rights, but we must demand it!

Support the fight for housing security!

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