Utrecht to reserve all social housing placements for refugees for six weeks
All social housing placements in Utrecht will exclusively go to refugees for a period of six weeks starting August 1. It involves 490 refugees - asylum seekers whose application was granted and who received a residency permit for the Netherlands - all of whom will be accommodated in the six weeks, Utrecht aldermen said to the Volkskrant.
With this unorthodox measure, Utrecht hopes to meet its statutory target for housing refugees as quickly as possible, also clearing last year’s backlog. “We opt for a short blow. It hurts for a while, but after that, we can quickly return to normal,” Rachel Streefland (ChristenUnie), alderman for Asylum and Integration, said to the newspaper. Her PvdA colleague, Dennis de Vries of Housing, added: “Radical times call for radical solutions.”
Every municipality is legally obliged to accommodate refugees. But due to the significant shortage of available and suitable social rental housing, Utrecht lags far behind its target. The waiting list for one of Utrecht’s about 46,500 social rental homes is 11 years on average, according to the newspaper.
Normally, 70 percent of social housing placements go to regular home seekers and 30 percent to special or vulnerable target groups, including refugees. Utrecht will temporarily suspend that distribution. Only home seekers “with dire need” will be eligible for social housing in the six-week period.
Utrecht opted for this approach because the city will simultaneously build additional homes for all home seekers. The municipality and housing associations agreed to build 2,500 temporary social rental homes over the next 2.5 years to combat the housing shortage - 1,000 next year and 1,500 in 2024. These “flexible homes” will stand for 10 to 15 years.
The aldermen realize that prioritizing refugees will cause some dissatisfaction among other home seekers. Some people already think that “refugees steal our homes,” Streefland acknowledged. But she believes that this short intervention will prevent the social rental market from being hindered by the statutory target for housing refugees for the entire year.
“With this intervention, the red flag turns green again in one go,” Streefland said. “Utrecht is a hospitable city that is also happy to contribute to giving refugees a place. The fact that we are opting for this radical measure shows the extent of the asylum and housing crisis.”
The Netherlands’ overcrowded asylum centers currently house over 14,000 refugees, who have often been waiting for stable housing for years. They occupy about a third of the country’s asylum reception capacity. This stagnating outflow is one of the main reasons for the current crisis in asylum reception, in which asylum seekers regularly have to sleep in chairs or outside at the application in Ter Apel. Last month, the Cabinet urgently appealed to municipalities to accelerate the housing of 7,500 refugees this year.