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Social Housing in Europe

The Netherlands

Brussels, 27 March 2010 | Published in Research

What is social housing?

The Netherlands is the country with the largest share of social housing in the EU, accounting for about 32% of the total housing stock and some 75% of the rental stock in the country. There is not a single definition of social housing in the Netherlands, although The Dutch Constitution states (Article 22) that the promotion of adequate housing is the object of the care of public authorities and the Dutch Housing Act of 1901 offers a legal framework for the way the provision of social housing is organised.

In a 2010 decision by the European Commission on the Dutch social housing system was defined as the provision of housing at below market price to a target group of disadvantaged people or socially less advantaged groups, as well as to certain categories of key workers. The target group as well as the exact modalities of the service are defined by the public authorities. Social housing providers can also provide other related services to the target groups.

Who provides social housing?

Registered social housing organisations in the Netherlands (Woning corporaties) are private non-profit organisations with a legal task to give priority to housing households with lower incomes. They operate on the basis of a registration and are supervised by the national government. Although housing associations work within a legal framework set up by the State, they are independent organisations, setting their own objectives and bearing their own financial responsibilities.

Social housing organisations are the most important agents on the Dutch housing market and their task is not only to build, maintain, sell and rent social housing stock but also to provide other kinds of services, directly related to the use of the dwellings, to the occupants. There are currently about 425 such registered social housing organisations.

How is social housing financed?

While maintaining their social commitment, social housing organisations in the Netherlands have been financially independent from the central government since the so-called “Brutering” or “balancing-out” agreement in 1993 between the State and the national federations of social housing organisations. The Dutch financial strategy has been defined as a ‘Revolving Fund Model, where housing associations act as independent bodies in an environment of guaranteed capital market loans and rent-price regulation.

More precisely, registered social housing organisations can benefit from a three-level security structure: the first element is the Central Fund of Social Housing (CFV), an independent public body that acts as a supervisor of the organization’s financial situation and intervenes to give support to the organization incurring financial difficulties. The second security instrument is the Guarantuee Fund for Social Housing (WSW), a private organization created by housing organisations themselves that acts as solidarity fund among them. The mutual guarantee this Fund enables social housing organisations to benefit from favourable conditions and interest rates when financing their activities on the open capital market. In case these two instruments are not sufficient to overcome organisations’ economic problems, the State and the local authorities can intervene by acting as a last resort.

Who can access social housing?

Mechanisms for allocation and criteria vary according to the local/ regional situation. In general, up until recently, access to social housing in the Netherlands was never restricted on the basis of income and was virtually open to all citizens. However the recent decision by the European Commission mentioned above challenged this universal approach by targeting social housing provision to a limited group of people (disadvantaged people or socially less advantaged groups, as well as to certain categories of key workers), primarily defined by terms of income.