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To: Gemeente Amsterdam

François Girard-Meunier

23.09.2020 13:42

Goedendag,

I'm sorry my dutch (for writing) is not very good. On the other hand, I'm usually good at reading through documents (whether on my own or with some extra help).

At first, I want to quickly disclaim that I’ve been conducting inquiries on the housing situation of students as well as graduates of a specific Amsterdam higher school. My reply is based on opinions that were shaped by our findings. We have a web page where results can be viewed here.

What I’d like to highlight the most is that I've been really concerned over the past 4-5 years about changes in laws as well as changes in their enforcement that regards house sharing (woningdelen).

Among the main arguments offered by lawmakers is that:

  1. people sharing houses are neighborhood disturbances.
  2. the new laws protect better house sharers (as they all have an individual legal contract).
  3. current laws are better at softening and preventing aggressive real estate investors / speculators that buy apartment units to split them in rooms for an outrageous price (i.e. 'Stichting Urbanic', but there are dozens of companies in the like, see this article by Het Parool.

I do understand these arguments. I also believe that, on paper, the current law seems to address legitimate issues. Nonetheless, there is a dissonance between making laws that ultimately regulate markets and markets that react in unexpected ways to these laws.

So, at first, housing is a need (right) and not (only) a commodity like other other commodities tradable on the market. As housing is required and a basic human need, this means that housing won't be swapped for other alternatives if the economic circumstances makes it an economically “unwise” choice.

I’m aware there are probably several types of ‘woningdelers’ but the example I have is the following… they usually decide to share a house not out of enjoyment, but it is at first a choice of economic nature. This group is likely to have incomes between 15.000€ and 30.000€: they are unwelcomed in the 'vrije huur' segment, and probably still miss still 10 to 15 years on the social housing list (they stopped looking because they got bored at seeing themselves being 500-something'th on the waiting list). They'd like to spend 35-45% of their income on rent, but now end up throwing more 50%, if they even are lucky enough to find something.

Currently the city forbids more than two people not from the same family to live together unless special requirements are met. These requirements make the rental of such units less attractive to landlords for this specific group of people. What is implied when releasing these laws is that landlords will likely comply with the rules. What is observed though is that landlords simply stop renting to anything but couples or single dwellers. Why is that?

The 'law' does not 'work': real estates investors being... well investors, they put money (at 'work' they say) and expect returns. In regards to real estate this works two-way: by obtaining a fixed income on the placed money (the rent element) and by generating capital gains on the invested assets (the resale of real estate element).

The room rental basis (onzelfstandige woningen) adjusted to the point system allows house-sharers to ask for a rental reduction that is far over previous market rental prices when combined. This means that no landlord wishes to be stuck with tenants that can reduce sometimes by half their rental income. Markets don’t like when they are advised to go down drastically, so they just tend to side corner laws. Extending the point system to ‘vrije huur’ units would have had a better dissuasive effect but I understand this must come from the national level and not from the municipal one, therefore the Gemeente Amsterdam cannot do much about it.

On the other hand, the current situation forces prospective home sharers to lie to their landlord, pretend to be couples, and rent units with multiple bedrooms with some ‘registered’ tenants and some ‘unregistered’ ones. This way they can end up paying, currently, around 550€ per month (example of a 1.650€ for a 3br apartment), around 33% of the national minimum wage. Sometimes landlords are aware of these lies, but they also don’t say anything because they are aware that the demand coming from single or couple upper middle class incomes is likely to dry up (esp. in current times). With the current laws, the actual result is people paying 825€ (over 50% of the national minimum wage) for a room (let’s say this same apartment for 1.650€) if they wish to live legally. That’s even if they are able to get through the income requirements, which they likely won’t (1.650€ x 4 x 12 = 79.200€/year).

As the situation regarding expanding the supply of affordable housing is not likely to be attenuated before several years, maybe even between five to ten years, it seems absurd to openly facilitate people living in illegal situations out of economic status. Some of them provide essential services to the city (minimum wage activities from service jobs, cultural labour, transportation, and other maintenance activities) which benefit the ones that can actually afford to live here. Affordable housing being unaccessible (the result of a decade of neoliberal economic policies), they could at least access somewhat affordable housing through the sharing of an apartment and be legally registered, which is not the case now.

I’m sure there are other ways to address the issues that house sharers might bring in (nuisance and expanding housing unaffordability) that doesn’t have to actually punish them.

Best,
François Girard-Meunier