BPW: “The visionless woonvisie is just throwing oil onto the fire”

The speech by Lila of BPW, yesterday at the protest in Rotterdam against the new local “Woonvisie”.

Hello, I’m Lila and I am standing here today on behalf of Bond Precaire Woonvormen (BPW), a national association that supports tenants who live in temporary and precarious conditions to demand their housing rights. I am speaking in English, because these discussions also have to become accessible to the people who become the scapegoats of the housing crisis: international students, migrant workers and newly arrived refugees.

In 2016, I moved to a free-market rental with a housemate in the South of Rotterdam, after having been moved around 5 times in 2.5 years by antikraak agencies. In 2016, the Woonvisie was openly a social cleansing policy as demonstrated by the controversial Rotterdam-wet, the NPRZ (Nationaal Programma Rotterdam Zuid), and the famously invalid referendum that aimed for “social cohesion” by demolishing social housing and pushing low income people out of the city. Since 2022, the Rotterdam-wet is only active in selected streets and it has banned the controversial article 8 that prohibited people on benefits or with police record, by replacing it with article 9 that instead gives priority to residents with the desired “socioeconomic characteristics”. So technically, the municipality does not actively push out the poor, but they bring in the rich. Nowadays, the Woonvisie claims to provide “affordable homes”, “innovative” solutions for target groups and ensure “good landlord behaviour”. While there has been a change in the vocabulary used, there is no change in who is being prioritized and who is being targeted negatively by the municipal policies.

With aspirational starters, small-scale investors, and highly educated expats being the “desired” demographic of the city, it is no wonder why in the midst of a “scarcity of housing” the municipality provides financial incentives and tax cuts to make larger homes, by combining two koopwoningen together even on the burden of “liberalized” social housing. This also comes, despite housing prices skyrocketing in neighbourhoods like Charlois with a 53 procent increase since 2017. Makes you wonder: who are these “local starters” and whether they can “start” without family wealth?

In the rental section, middle income is prioritized, even though middle income is not the average income in Rotterdam and a very high percentage of residents fall far below that threshold despite having full time jobs. Rents have been also skyrocketing, increasing more than 35 procent in the past 10 years. Nationally, over 800,000 people have too little money to live on after paying their rent. Again, makes you wonder: who benefits from including middle-income housing into the “affordable” label?

Housing has not only become more expensive, but also increasingly more temporary. Secure, affordable housing, such as social housing, is deliberately curtailed, demolished, sold or liberalised to overpriced free sector rent. By the way, “liberalization” is a huge misnomer, it is rather the opposite, housing is taken out of the commons and becomes private property, which makes it more difficult to regulate and even get tenants protection with the Huurcommissie. Alderman Zeegers believes that the solution to increase social housing is the 2,000 container homes of the StartR flexwoningen planned to be built in Feyenoord, Hoogvliet and possibly De Esch and Delfshaven. These temporary tiny homes cannot count as social housing.

It used to be students, temporary workers and people in antikraak who were on temporary contracts, willingly or not. Nowadays, it is estimated that almost half of the private rentals and increasingly also social rentals are on temporary and precarious contracts. The municipality incentivises “innovative solutions” for multiple forms of flexwoning for “target groups” such as students, temporary workers, and status holders to resolve housing shortage. There is nothing innovative about precarity. Even with the Wet Vaste Huurcontracten that comes into place July 1st and will attempt to put a stop in the proliferation of temporary contracts, a series of exceptions are drafted including students, both international and local.

Temporary rentals were supposed to promote better distribution of the scarce housing stock. In practice, however, they led to rising rents and housing insecurity for more tenants. Another excuse for the proliferation of flexwoning was that they tackled vacancy. Since the introduction of the Anti-squatting act in 2010 and further prohibitions that came in 2021, vacancy has not been resolved. Rather this policy increased homelessness and housing shortage while punishing its victims. It criminilised squatters and allowed the proliferation of actually criminal antikraak agencies that exploit tenants for dangerously unmaintained properties without any rights. Homelessness has doubled since 2010 while more than 100,000 houses are vacant. So, with the demolition of public housing, increasing temporary rentals and artificially creating a scarcity, different groups are played off against each other. No, the housing shortage is not because of asylum seekers! It is not the fault of international students, immigrants, or squatters. It is a result of deliberate policies from the people sitting in this building behind me who can actually resolve it. Even more insecure, temporary, overpriced housing solutions are the fuel of this housing crisis and presented by as a solution. The visionless woonvisie is just throwing oil onto the fire.

But, is there also a shortage of solutions? No! Woonopstand in 2021 came up with this list of 9 demands, supported by over 160 organisations nationally, including BPW:

We demand:

  • 1. Housing policy that guarantees availability, affordability, and housing security! Increase social housing stock, make actually affordable homes, and ban temporary contracts.
  • 2. Housing First principle! This means no evictions, and lifting the squatting ban. How to solve vacancy and homelessness together? Decriminalise squatting and squat empty properties.
  • 3. Investments in widely accessible public housing. Social housing was not only accessible to people with the lowest income. The middle segment will also benefit from not paying 60 percent of their salary in rent.
  • 4. Absolutely no discrimination, more homes for people with disabilities and a full ban of Rotterdamwet. People should be able to choose where they live.
  • 5. Full control, and independent support for residents about renovation plans for their homes, streets, and neighbourhoods. No decisions about us, without us!
  • 6. Stop financilisation and speculation, this includes freezing rents for 5 years, banning oversees investors, expand the law that forces homeowners to actually live in their properties, all over the city.
  • 7. Curtail market forces! This means regulate rents also in the private sector, make point system binding, punish landlords who continue malpractices. The municipality also should stop being complicit, with criminal antikraak agencies, stop collaborating with them and encourage housing corporations to do the same.
  • 8. Give space, land and a viable legal position to housing cooperatives with full control of their rents. This is real cooperatives, not a diluted version where you don’t have ownership and you only get 10-15 years of contracts.
  • 9. Reverse flexibilization and guarantee housing security: fixed rental contracts and permanent housing for all, without any exceptions.

But we cannot leave our right to housing solely to the government. What can we do:

  • 1. We can organise at city level in solidarity networks, such as BPW, or join an active tenants’ association.
  • 2. We should build a solidarity infrastructure to stop evictions. So much has already been achieved with direct action and mutual aid.
  • 3. We should oppose gentrification within our neighbourhoods, and our places of work. We should try to understand how each of us is complicit in it and try to act in our spheres of influence.
  • 4. Lastly, we should dream big. In Berlin, tenants are getting closer into 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 cannot wait and beg for our housing right but we should claim them!