New social housing is needed, but building goes slowly

The pressing need for new social housing has yet to be adequately met in the Netherlands, exacerbating a severe housing crisis. The Dutch government’s initial target to build 900,000 new homes by 2030 aimed to mitigate a shortfall of nearly 300,000 homes. However, construction rates should be higher, with only 75,000 homes completed last year and a mere 33,000 building permits issued in the first half of this year. This stark reality has ledto lengthy waiting lists and increased frustration among citizens unable to find affordable housing.

Several critical issues hinder the pace of construction. These include the ongoing nitrogen crisis, a significantshortage of construction workers, escalating material costs, and complex bureaucratic and sustainability regulations. These challenges have driven up costs and complicated construction projects, as noted by Cees Loggen, provincial deputy of North Holland, who emphasised the need for substantial government intervention to meet housing targets.

The social housing sector especially needs to catch up, with fewer than 15,000 new homes built annually during thepast two years, far below expectations. Aedes, the umbrella organisation for housing associations, has labelled this output ‘woefully inadequate’. This issue is pervasive across various municipalities. In some places, like De Bilt and Simpelveld, no new social housing developments have been initiated in the last three years.

Zeno Winkels, chairman of the renters’ association Woonbond, expressed deep disappointment with the state of new construction, highlighting its significant societal impact. He pointed out the growing waiting times and the stagnation of young adults’ lives, many of whom live with their parents well into their thirties due to housing shortages. Winkelscalled for more vigorous efforts from corporations and municipalities.

Professor Marja Elsinga from TU Delft criticised the government’s ambitious housing targets as ‘overambitious’, pointing out that the plans were made without adequately considering the rising construction costs and interest rates. Local municipalities are struggling under regulatory burdens, and the construction industry needs more staff and material shortages, creating a conflict between affordability and sustainability.

In Amsterdam, the demand for a significant allocation of new housing to social and mid-range rentals hasreduced the profitability of new developments, further slowing co

Stakeholders across all sectors are calling for streamlined processes and clearer government directives to tacklethe housing crisis effectively. Woonbond advocates for a crisis approach to construction, emphasising the urgent need for action to meet the housing demands of the Dutch population. Without substantial policy adjustments, the goal of providing timely, affordable housing remains a distant prospect, urging policymakers to prioritise efficient execution and address these extensive challenges.

This situation is further complicated by the dual goals of ensuring affordability and sustainability, which often conflictwith the pressing need to build more housing quickly. Thus, the government and local authorities are caught in a bind, needing to balance environmental concerns with urgent social needs. The national debate continues as urgencyescalates, highlighting the need for decisive action and a reevaluation of priorities to effectively address the critical housing shortage.

The role of housing associations is crucial in this context. These organisations need to navigate between their socialmission to provide affordable housing and the financial realities of rising costs. The government’s management and regulatory frameworks must evolve to better support these organisations in fulfilling their mandates efficiently and effectively.

Moreover, innovative construction techniques and materials are being explored to reduce costs and accelerate building processes. This includes modular housing and the use of sustainable materials that not only meet regulatory requirements but also contribute to environmental conservation.

Collaborative efforts among government agencies, construction companies, and housing associations are essential. By fostering partnerships and adopting flexible policies, the Netherlands can more effectively address themultifaceted challenges of building adequate and affordable housing for its population. Integrating moderntechnology and new materials is also pivotal in reshaping the landscape of Dutch housing, ensuring that future developments are sustainable, efficient and in line with society’s evolving needs.

Written by Nicole Bea Kerr