This City Is Making It Illegal for New Home Buyers to NOT Live In Their New Homes

Photo: Laura West

Vancouver Would Be Cooler If is a column that advocates for things that exist in other cities that could serve to improve or otherwise celebrate life in our own.

In an attempt to make housing more affordable for the people of Amsterdam, the local government is trying to make it illegal for new home buyers to not live in their new home. The proposed law appears to be on track for the books this Fall. Citylab published a good backgrounder on it a couple of months ago:

The Netherlands has relatively high home-ownership rates, with 67 percent of the Dutch population living in owner-occupied housing as of 2014. Middle-income households that would have formerly expected to buy, however, are increasingly finding themselves priced out of the market, substantially by investors who then place the property on the rental market.

The challenges of investor-dominated rental markets is hardly limited to Amsterdam, and there’s a growing determination across Europe to show a tougher, more heavily regulated approach to large-scale housing investors. Barcelona, for example, is imposing massive fines for landlords who leave properties empty, and Berlin plans to start renationalizing private housing after investors scooped up much of its rental housing in recent decades.

Rental units do, of course, provide somebody with a home, though it’s often on far less secure terms than ownership. As more units have become rental housing, many in Amsterdam’s middle class find they could have purchased a home if the market looked like it did a decade or so ago, but its changes mean they remain stuck renting.

Amsterdam’s proposed laws wouldn’t stop new rental housing from being built—according to the city’s proposal, that housing would simply have to be proposed and approved as rental property in the first place. On its own, the measure isn’t a fix for a malfunctioning housing market, but it should serve to reduce a certain amount of pressure at the upper end of the rental market.

I italicized that last passage out because it’s important to note that there isn’t a silver bullet to fixing housing affordability — not in Amsterdam and certainly not in Vancouver. The article also makes this clear. “Will these measures be enough to help Amsterdam create a stable, sustainable housing market? Almost certainly not, but they could be a step on the way there. They will at the least make sure that existing measures to make the city’s housing more affordable are far more effective.” Indeed. Change would require action on several fronts, not to mention a fair amount of political will. I see some of that in this instance, which is why I think it’s worth sharing here.

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