agenda for the city of the future


Decent affordable housing for the colourful mix of people that make up the city.

These are the results of dozens of conversations, discussions and exchanges of Cities for Change.  Door uiteenlopende deelnemers en organisaties uit Amsterdam en andere steden in Europa.


Housing is not a commodity. Housing is a right. This was at the basis of the struggle for the Housing Act of 1901 – and this continues to apply in 21st-century for Amsterdam.

Housing is an essential provision. This requires a well-thought-through and equitable strategy for affordable and accessible housing that does justice to the city's motley mix. Starters, students, families, cleaners, teachers, nurses, artists, people with middle and low incomes, vulnerable young and old people, homeless people, refugees, undocumented people. With inclusive and climate-proof residential areas, and collective forms of living and working. In this strategy, city government and residents are allies.

'Companies can buy up entire streets. "Housing laws? Nothing to do with us", is what they say, as they rely on European legislation. And so the municipality is sidelined.'Gert Jan Bakker, consultant at Stichting !WOON

'Companies can buy up entire streets. "Housing laws? Nothing to do with us", is what they say, as they rely on European legislation. And so the municipality is sidelined.'Gert Jan Bakker, consultant at Stichting !WOON

'Ownership in the Netherlands is gilt-edged. We have to get rid of that.’ Maarten van Poelgeest, chairman Built Environment Climate Agreement

Recommendations for Amsterdam

  • Affordable, liveable and inclusive housing is central to policy. The needs of future and current residents take precedence over profits on the price of land. Amsterdam is already aiming for 80 percent affordable housing for middle and lower incomes in new-builds. And measures are needed to keep this up in the long term, both for new housing projects and existing dwellings.
  • Democratize decision-making regarding land, real estate and living environment and give residents a say. This can be done in public-civil partnerships (PCPs) instead of public-private partnerships with large companies (PPPs). The C in PCPs can stand for civil, collective, cooperative, commons or community. Involve housing collectives and housing activists in policy-making and facilitate cooperative forms of housing.
  • House people, not investors. It's about giving residents and home seekers influence on decisions that concern them (see also the point above). In order to provide sufficient space for social initiatives and neighbourhood and community spaces. And to make it easier to start housing cooperatives: accessible to diverse groups, with special attention for social tenants.
  • Anyone buying a house is banned from letting it for more than a specified amount. This housing obligation prevents investors from buying up and subsequently renting out homes, making the already scarce housing supply even more expensive. Such a housing obligation must go hand in hand with the fight against vacancy, because buyers can also leave their premises empty.
  • More perspective for people in vulnerable situations. More and more people are living in insecure or temporary circumstances or in an unhealthy housing situation. If they are suddenly made homeless, they are often on their own. With appropriate care and fast rehousing for a longer period of time, they can gain the prospect of moving on to a more permanent place to live.

Recommendations for the Netherlands

  • Broad public housing for low and middle incomes. In order to build more places to live, to maintain the current social rental stock and make it more sustainable, the landlord levy for housing corporations must be abolished. In order to give the construction of social housing an extra boost, additional investment from the state is needed. And the income threshold for social rent must be raised, so that the middle incomes are also able also rent affordably.
  • An end to subsidies and tax breaks for home ownership. This means speeding up abolishing the mortgage interest deduction. Capital must be taxed more heavily (than income from work) and second and third homes must also count as capital. Income from commercial rentals should count towards income tax. And measures are needed to prevent unfair competition between home seekers and investors driving up the price.
  • Regulate the private rental sector. The existing points system to determine a fair rent should apply to all rental properties. Remove the property value (WOZ-waarde) from the scoring. And prevent 'buy to let' – instead, make it more attractive to invest in affordable new-builds.
  • Flex leases only serve slumlords and must be scrapped.
  • Landlords must apply for a permit that they can lose in the event of abuse.
  • A Ministry for Housing. All these measures and more require central direction, insight, research and transparency: a Ministry of Housing is the designated place for this.

Recommendations for Europe

  • The right to housing takes precedence over the right to profit. Mechanisms and policies are needed to enforce that Member States provide housing security for their residents. In Europe, the free movement of capital is still at the top of the list. And property is better protected than housing law and quality of life.
  • A housing policy that combats inequality. Europe must assess whether national housing policies combat rather than reinforce socio-economic inequality. This discourages the disproportionate subsidisation of owner-occupied homes and taxation of social rent.
  • Promote transparency and cooperation
  • Fund and stimulate research. Into housing, quality of life and the development of housing policy, public housing and the housing market. Into the cost of housing, profit and the impact on (in)equality. Promote easy, accessible knowledge exchange between cities and countries, as well as information about unethical parties by keeping a blacklist of "bad investors."

'Ownership in the Netherlands is gilt-edged. We have to get rid of that.’ Maarten van Poelgeest, chairman Built Environment Climate Agreement

Which problems are the recommendations an answer to?

The housing crisis. The explosive increase in house prices and rents, bizarre prices for small rooms, trapped first-time buyers, driven-away middle incomes and more and more homeless people. Housing is an expression of and a basis for social inequality. By turning housing into a financial market with houses as investment objects – instead of public housing – more and more people are falling by the wayside. Property is better protected than the right of residence and the rights of residents to a liveable, affordable neighbourhood. This crisis is not a natural phenomenon, but the result of policies, political choices, perceptions. And it's not a problem exclusive to Amsterdam either, it affects the whole of the Netherlands, Berlin, Barcelona, Paris, Lisbon ...

What is already happening in Amsterdam or other cities?

  • In a referendum in Berlin, a majority of 56.4 percent was in favour of the expropriation of large real estate companiesThe outcome is not legally binding, but Berlin’s politicians are required to consider it.
  • Berlin has developed the Vorkaufsrecht . When a house is sold, several city districts compare the market price with the rent. If the market price is disproportionately higher, district councils may stop the sale, and offer it at a lower price to housing associations tasked with guaranteeing affordable housing.
  • In February 2020, the City Council of Berlin wanted to introduce a Mietendeckel- a rent ceiling – fixing the rent of 1.5 million homes for the next five years. However, the federal courts rejected this, so now Berlin’s City Council is working on an alternative.
  • Barcelona has a progressive right-to-housing policy. A program that aims to combat speculation, develop public housing, ensure participation by citizens, grow the number of affordable apartments, and improve the current housing stock. The city has set a 10-year time line to effectuate this.
  • Housing First Europe Hub advocates an approach to immediately provide homeless people with a home. With reference to the basic principle that everyone has the right to housing. This guide explains how this works in different European contexts - and short videos explain what Housing First entails.

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In depth: Should I stay or should I go? Amsterdam as a sorting machine

Since 2015, after the previous crisis, Amsterdam has become a ‘sorting machine’: Only those who are the most economically successful can settle, everyone else is pushed out of the city (figuratively speaking) after a number of years. It is almost impossible to take root here, to develop further, to become an integral part of the city and contribute to its social life. It makes the city more uniform, lacking in a lively counter-culture, burgeoning intellectuality and vibrant creativity. Interventions are needed to give more people the opportunity to remain in Amsterdam.

This is the story told in the film Amsterdam - from Emancipation Machine to Sorting Machine . Created by Jaap Draaisma, social geographer, activist and pioneer for incubators and sanctuaries, with the support of De 99 van Amsterdam. The film premiered at Cities for Change, accompanied by a conversation between Maarten van Poelgeest, writer of Amsterdam as an Emancipation Machine, and Jaap Draaisma.

Watch the film Amsterdam - from Emancipation Machine to Sorting Machine


Newcomers and departures

Talented young people from all over the world are welcome in Amsterdam. In recent years, about 60 - 80,000 newcomers settled in the city every year. Most between the age of 18 and 25. To study: the number of foreign students enrolled in the UvA and VU universities has doubled in recent years. To work in construction, the creative industry, distribution, IT, the financial sector, as a delivery person and so on.

The number of new residents who settle in Amsterdam every year has almost doubled since 2015. The number of settlers from abroad has more than doubled. But Amsterdam is being drained almost as fast. Most of the settlers will be gone within 5 years. And also the Amsterdam youth, those who were born in Amsterdam, struggle to settle there permanently.

The largest groups of newcomers in recent years have come from India, the US and England. They are permitted to work or study here for a few years – on a temporary work contract, temporary housing contract – after which they leave again. Most departees are between 25 and 30 years old.


Emancipation and big money

In the book Amsterdam as an Emancipation Machine (2005), former alderman Maarten van Poelgeest (together with Leo Platvoet) describes how the city offers people the space to grow, to develop their talents, to move forward in their education, work and residential careers. In the documentary Push (2019), director Gertten and UN rapporteur Leilani Farhani show how global cities are falling into the grip of big money and becoming unaffordable. In the book A City of Comings and Goings (2019), the Rotterdam-based Crimson collective shows the influx and outflux in modern-day European cities. And now there is also Social networks in Amsterdam, an AUAS research project by Draaisma, among others, about new Amsterdam citizens, their social networks and whether they are able to settle or forced to leave.

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