‘Flexible tenancies’ in the Netherlands: undermining secure, affordable housing and good work

In the Netherlands, renting is far more secure than it is in the UK and the majority of people rent, either from public or private landlords. However, rented housing has in recent years become ‘liberalised’, with social housing sold off, and more short-term or ‘flexible’ rent contracts introduced, contracts terminated more quickly and tenants evicted more easily. The Netherlands is also the birthplace of property guardianship, which has flourished since the 1990s, whilst squatting has also been made illegal in all properties. Property guardianship functions as part of this wider trend towards insecure tenancies. The Government is currently proposing legislation to create 2- and 5-year ‘flexible’ tenancies for new tenants, prioritising “starters” and ‘key workers’ with the presumption that people will earn more and then can afford to buy. This echoes the ‘right to buy’ policy in the UK but also produces more subtle, interlinked and individualised forms of rent and discrimination between different types of renters. There is also a strong link between these new rents and ‘starter/flexible’ type jobs, which in the Netherlands on average only earn about 30% less of the average wage people with indefinite contracts.

The Union of Precarious Tenants, founded in 2010, is a membership organisation made up of property guardians and tenants with ‘flexible’ arrangements. We hope to publish an interview with one of the founders of the organisation soon.

We think that these developments in the Netherlands will be of interest to those organising and working in and working on rented housing and/or low-paid, flexible work in the UK. Do get in touch if you want to collaborate around this.

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17th April 2014

Government proposal for new ‘temporary rent’ leads to disenfranchised flexible nomads

The fact that the government wants to expand the possibilities for short term tenancies for house-hunters suggests that there is a need for these tenancies. In reality, the government has no idea what people’s needs are and merely listens to commercial interests, in this case the real estate industry. The Dutch government to create a class of “disenfranchised flexible nomads”; living in poverty and insecurity.

The Union of Precarious Tenants (BPW) is a volunteer organization which exists to demand living rights for different types of “flexible tenants”, to support these residents who are forced into anti-squatting or other temporary living situations, and to research the ongoing developments in this area. We see very disturbing circumstances in relation to the housing shortage, including the increasing proliferation of temporary housing and the related abuse of people who need housing.

Residents are afraid and don’t know their rights. In addition, “flexible living” and ” flexible working” increasingly go together, particularly at the lower-paid end of the labour market. Temporary workers are also increasingly temporary tenants. The legal status of people – both in housing and in work – is being affected at a rapid pace.

The people who come to the BPW for help do not live in temporary accommodation because they choose to; in fact they would like a permanent home, but cannot afford it. The “free choice ” of temporary living … is only in reality a very small number of well-off people. The people we see at BPW cannot pay in the market rental sector and certainly can’t afford a mortgage. Some are eligible for social housing, but there are ever fewer social housing units, because many have been sold and housing associations ‘liberalized’. And if there is social housing available, then it is often too expensive for many people; soon some will be over 500 Euro per month.

The minister, the Christian Union party and the Stadgenoot housing association say that housing needs flexibility to operate. They are also framing the ‘starter’ in their proposed ‘flexible contract’ as a highly-educated graduate who might just be starting in their first job and not earning very much. In reality, people young and old, educated or not, get low-skilled temporary living arrangements, like property guardianship and temporary letting because they can’t afford anything else.

Instead of looking critically from here to determine whether this is a desirable development in theNetherlands , on 14th April Minister Block made the problem worse by appointing “special” groups who will now not get permanent tenancies, eviction protection, relocation rights and relocation expenses. This includes “key workers” such as nurses, police, PhD students, migrant workers, largefamilies, divorced, ex-prisoners, ‘antisocial’ tenants, young people, people starting out and possibly more “free” categories.

Minister Block pretends that these are exceptions (“so you can sleep easy “) and proclaims that “a temporary home is better than no home”. But he adds no concrete proposals for a wider range of affordable homes, even though the demand for affordable rental housing is increasing and the supply is decreasing. So in the Netherlands we are creating poverty and an insecure existence; these disenfranchised flexible nomads and temporary residents can lose both their work and their home at any time.

Through supporting tenants, BPW are constantly faced with the issues of poverty and forced eviction. Earlier this year, the social housing organisation Aedes reported nearly 7,000 evictions in 2013. We know that each year in the Netherlands, many more people with temporary rental and other temporary contracts are evicted too. However, this is not recorded because these evictions affect “people who have simply chosen a temporary contract and know it could be terminated at any time.” In practice, people usually have no choice and the misery of a contract termination for these residents is no less. After a period of temporary rent, access to affordable rent is still zero. So people come back in a temporary home contract, again and again.

Do the politicians who are so keen on temporary contracts think it is also a solution for a family, as with the recent case of the five children from Soesterberg facing eviction? To that question, the answer is silence, a shrug and a flimsy appeal to people’s personal responsibility. The BPW know from experience that silence on the part of politicians will be met with social unrest!

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