Sunday, December 10, 2023

Living in a box: Housing a key election topic for young Dutch

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AMSTERDAM – Living in a 20 sq m container house project on an old sports ground north of Amsterdam, 26-year-old Youri Hermes considers himself lucky: At least he has a roof over his head.

Many young people in the Netherlands “don’t have that luxury”, said the leadership coach, as a crippling housing crisis shapes up to be a key topic in Nov 22’s knife-edge election, especially with the youth vote.

Mr Hermes lives with 540 other young people, half of them refugees with a residence permit, in one of the “Startblokken” (Starting Blocks) facilities that have sprung up recently in the Netherlands to ease the housing shortage.

The Startblokken project started in 2015 using refurbished metal shipping containers.

Now, for around €400 (S$585) per month, youngsters can rent a small studio within striking distance of Amsterdam, in a “container house” made of wood and recycled materials.

Available for people aged between 18 and 27, the studios each have a small kitchen and bathroom, and are stacked on top of one another in large blocks.

The maximum rental period is five years and project manager Arnold Hooiveld says he gets “hundreds of applications” every time a studio becomes available.

“There is a huge shortage of housing in Amsterdam. This is one of the solutions,” Mr Hooiveld told AFP.

The complex was also conceived to encourage young people from all walks of life to live together.

Construction engineering student Junia Kersten, 29, told AFP: “For me, the multicultural aspect is important – living with people from different backgrounds, of the same age.

“You sometimes have the feeling you’re living in a big house with your brother and sister. You can knock on anyone’s door.”

‘Disastrous’ situation

But the Starting Blocks project is a drop in the ocean of the Dutch housing crisis.

The Netherlands needs around 400,000 more houses, reckons Mr Marc van der Lee, spokesman for the Dutch Association of Real Estate Agents (NWM), with demand “continuing to rise”.

With just under one-fifth of the Netherlands standing on reclaimed land, space is at a premium in the country, one of the world’s most densely populated.

Adding to the crisis is a growing population, rising immigration and smaller family units, said Mr van der Lee.

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