It only takes a short drive or metro ride from the city centre to visit a housing project that can offer you an injection of optimism. There are 565 reasons for that in a rare mosaic that goes beyond the theories about social mix. Startblok Riekerhaven is a true source of inspiration for housing associations that are confronted with the integration challenge. Driven by the mission ‘Building a future together’ Startblok shows how youngsters of totally different backgrounds can support each other establishing a community that goes beyond just housing provision, laying the foundations for a better future. Housing Europe paid a visit to Riekerhaven as part of its participation at the International Social Housing Festival.
Startblok is a housing project for young refugees who have recently received their residence permit (status-holders) and for young persons from the Netherlands. In cooperation with Socius Wonen and the Municipality of Amsterdam, housing organisation De Key is developing Startblok at Riekerhaven, a former sports-grounds next to the A10 highway in Amsterdam New West.
Startblok offers 565 housing units to 282 young status-holders and 283 working youngsters or students from the Netherlands. The studios are about 23m2 and have their own facilities such as a small kitchen, bathroom and toilet. Each floor also has a communal living space for social activities and there are two large green areas. The prices are well below the average rent in Amsterdam ranging from 350 to 430 Euros per month.
Rienk Postuma, Project Manager of De Key explains us the selection procedure, underlining that the interest has been really big from the beginning. The applications are made electronically filling in an online form and then a selection committee makes the decision taking into consideration the age, the level of motivation as well as the educational and cultural background.
Fleur Eymann, who is part of the team that welcomed us, lives in Startblok and she also takes care of PR and Communication around the project, being one of the so called ‘self-managers’. Tenants get the opportunity to help managing their own living environment building a system of self-management. Tenants organize everything that can be organized by themselves. Self-management is split into two branches: social management and general management. Social management focuses on forming a community and social cohesion, covering everything necessary to create and maintain a comfortable, clean, safe and liveable environment. General management is responsible for all other daily affairs.
Fleur says that after 11 months in the project, it pretty safe to evaluate the whole experience as rather promising. Indeed, according the figures they provided us with all status holders are attending language courses and have taken up either an internship or some kind of working/learning experience. There are still challenges, of course, to address. Language is still an important factor, despite the great progress most tenants have made while culture differences are hard to bridge in so little time. Additionally, mental health is an issue for a part of the population.
Overall, one sees smiling faces while walking around the streets of the former sports ground, while the 2 tenants who we met expresses their excitement and their gratitude for their current living conditions. Colourful posters with positive messages on the walls add up to the inclusive atmosphere.
Before we head to train station to catch our train back to Brussels we find out that soon the second Startblok will be established based on the existing model in Amsterdam. But we leave with the impression that this is an initiative that seems to be working on the ground that could be replicated also beyond the Dutch borders…