Shivering under the snow, dozens of young house hunters demonstrated in The Hague on Friday for the right to have an affordable home.
In the Lange Voorhout avenue, a stone’s throw from parliament, scores of young people set up tent for several hours, in appropriately unwelcoming weather: icy winds, hostile rain, and then a layer of snow.
The protest, organised by home owners’ association Eigen Huis and festival Lowlands, was the culmination of a national campaign gathering testimony and more than 100,000 signatures from people who feel excluded from buying or renting a home – for a price they can afford.
‘It’s a sad situation,’ said Rogier Visser, a 26-year-old who works full time for a transport company in Rotterdam. ‘We have these great cities, but you can’t find a home in them. Not even a home to buy but one to rent. My sister, who is 32, bought a house with her boyfriend when she was 24, for €130,000. I’ve only just left my parents.’
Visser, and others, said that the extraordinary recent house price rises – up to 130% since 2013 in cities such as Amsterdam – have effectively shut out a generation. Noah Jongenden, 26, and a nurse, is on a waiting list for homes for high priority workers in Amsterdam, but says it is a ‘drama’ to find even a shared rental house. ‘Buying is out of the question – I did look, and with my salary, I can buy a parking space,’ she said. ‘The solution is more building and more houses for first-time buyers.’
During a panel debate with experts and house hunters, under blackening skies, Cindy Kremer, general manager of Eigen Huis, said that the organisation had taken up the cause of younger people because the situation was critical. ‘We have enormous problems in the housing market,’ she said. ‘It won’t be news to you that there are far too few houses available and that the houses we have are unaffordable.
‘For a year, we have had a minister of housing, but for years there was no government direction – and that’s one of the reasons that these problems have come to be. The housing minister Hugo de Jonge has big ambitions…to build 900,000 houses in the years ahead, most of them affordable – both to rent and buy.
‘But you wouldn’t be here if there wasn’t reason to be downhearted, and I am downhearted about the price of housing. First time buyers simply cannot afford a house, and if people think that a €350,000 house is affordable, they are wrong. Homes need to be built for everyone, for people who want to rent, for people with big wallets, but above all for starters because otherwise we will lose a whole generation.’
A petition with 102,621 signatures calling for the government to build at least 10,000 ‘genuinely affordable’ homes a year of up to €260,000 was handed to De Jonge at the event.
The housing minister said that mistakes in the past decade had led to the situation. ‘In the last period we have built far too little and far too expensively,’ he said. ‘Most homes we built were unaffordable for normal people, and completely out of reach for first time buyers. This means we are in a very complex situation, whether for renters or buyers.
‘It won’t just come good, and what we didn’t do right in the last 10 years won’t be fixed in one or two years. But we will do everything we can to build as many homes as we can, and as many affordable homes as we can.’
But, as their tents froze under a layer of snow, some wondered if the message had really landed with government. ‘I hope it will come good,’ said 25-year-old house hunter Frederieke to De Jonge. ‘I earn more than the modal income, I’m in a good situation, don’t have student loans, I have some savings…but I simply can’t buy a home on my own.’
‘Have you thought about getting a rich boyfriend?’ the housing minister replied.