As COVID vaccination in Belgium is advancing and restricting measures are easing down, the Housing Europe Secretariat together with colleagues from our German member, GdW and partner, Eurhonet headed to a study visit in Antwerp in the Flemish region of Belgium.
Welcomed by the team of VVH, the Association of Flemish Social Housing Companies, we heard from its Director, Bjorn Mallants about the challenges that come with the relocation of households and families when deep renovation is taking place, how they need to take care of social heritage in the process of development and refurbishment, as well as about the growing demand for social housing in the region. Today, VVH members own 99.5% of the public rental stock in Flanders and rent out 165,000 affordable homes. According to the latest numbers, however, 170,000 people are now on the social housing waiting list. This is a fact indicating that if we want supply to meet demand, the Flemish region would need to double the social housing stock to satisfy housing needs.
The housing association, Woonhaven clearly showed that its mission is to go beyond just renting affordable homes. To do this, a prevention worker is in charge of building meaningful relationships with tenants and spotting early signals to avoid evictions at an early stage. Woonhaven also works with psychologists and offers a helping hand to those who need mental support. A debt mediator is continuously in touch with tenants to ensure that the risk of rent arrears is minimised.
On the other hand, the local Centre for social general welfare, CAW Antwerpen lends almost 50 apartments from Woonhaven and becomes a social landlord for the most vulnerable. Entirely financed by the state, the Centre supports tenants on matters related to health, nutrition, hygiene, exercise, sleep, mental help, relationship, paperwork, independent living and more.
Our last stop was the Antwerp South district, better known as Circular Zuid, where social (10%) and private (90%) housing companies try to make circular economy possible in everyday life. The project is being realised with financial support from the Urban Innovative Actions fund. Smart consumption rewarded with circular points that can be spent in the neighbourhood, an energy cooperative, community gardening, composting, and raising awareness on waste reduction are some of the initiatives of this climate-friendly and future-oriented neighbourhood.