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Affordable Housing Game: Amsterdam

Urban Land Institute

Supports policy makers develop an implementable agenda for affordable housing across European Cities


Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Partners: Municipality of Amsterdam, Urban Land Institute

2 Sessions with 50 Participants

The Affordable Housing Game is a policy-making game designed to help housing professionals in European cities develop their affordable housing agendas, work through entrenched problems, and test future policy scenarios. Commissioned by the Urban Land Institute, the Affordable Housing Game was developed by Play the City. It provides a platform for exchanging ideas and knowledge across sectors and disciplines, with the aim of developing new, innovative, and collaborative solutions to complex and entrenched challenges.

The proportion of people living in social housing in Amsterdam is the highest in Europe at around 54 per cent. At the same time, the percentage of owner-occupied dwellings is growing, now roughly 34 per cent. What have increasingly been missing are affordable mid-price dwellings for rent, homeownership, or cooperative housing. The Woonagenda 2025 examined future housing needs in Amsterdam by 2025. The policy agenda highlighted that there will be an unmet demand for social and mid-segment homes for rent, as well as for market-rate homes for sale. To address these needs, the agenda determined that all new housing construction should consist of 40 per cent social rent, 40 per cent mid segment rent and sales, and 20 per cent market-rate rent and sales. By year 2025, 50,000 new homes should be built. In addition, the agenda outlined the need for a minimum of 1,500 mid-segment units to be built annually. While this construction is going on, the 22 areas of Amsterdam should be monitored in an effort to maintain a level of 35 per cent social housing in the overall housing stock.

Most social housing in the Netherlands is owned and managed by housing associations. The housing association sector is heavily regulated. The general framework for the allocation of all types of dwellings is arranged nationally through the Housing Allocation Act and locally by means of municipal ordinances. Since 2010, social housing organisations have been required to allocate 80 per cent of their vacant social housing (i.e., rent below €710.68 per month) to households with an annual income below €35,739, and 10 per cent to people with an income of €35,739 to €39,874, making 10 per cent eligible for other targets and needs not linked to income. When tenants move out, privately owned social housing can be sold at market value if the actual market value has grown beyond the social category. Housing associations are also allowed to liberalise or sell off a certain amount of their housing stock.

Mid-segment rental in the Netherlands is defined as monthly rent between €710.68 and €971.00, though no regulation currently exists to ensure that housing remains in this price range. Similarly, measures do not guarantee that affordable owner-occupied homes are not resold at market values. Housing associations are only allowed to build mid-segment housing when no private developer shows interest in an area.

“Koers 2025” is the current development plan for Amsterdam that outlines housing construction plans from 2016 to 2025 and beyond. Taking this into consideration, the Woonagenda goal of building 50,000 units can be met with current Koers 2025 plans, though there are still many questions that arise around what type of housing and communities will be built. Should the 40/40/20 percentages be at a project level, a neighbourhood level, or an area level? What measures can ensure that mid-segment units remain affordable? And how can you introduce mid-segment housing into areas where only social and market-rate housing are currently available?

The Amsterdam Game

Amsterdam was the second city to implement the Affordable Housing Game. The game was developed in partnership with the city of Amsterdam, which wished to explore the following questions through the game:

• What is the role of Woonagenda 2025 in creating a more inclusive Amsterdam?

• Which tools are needed to reinforce the new national housing construction expectations of 40 per cent social, 40 per cent mid-segment, and 20 per cent market housing, taking into consideration both new and existing housing stock?

A cross-section of stakeholders from the public and private sectors played the game. Players included national, regional, and local policy makers; housing associations; private developers; and investors. Game outcomes can be concluded as:

1. Woonagenda 2025 is now shaping debates.

The game set out to test the viability of this ambitious new recent policy agenda created in June 2017 by the City of Amsterdam. Players accepted these ratios as a starting point and were able to build proposals around them. Their proposals for new housing developments were all very close to the mix outlined in the Woonagenda: 40 per cent social, 40 per cent mid-segment, and 20 per cent market- rate housing.

2. Creating places, not just homes.

Players recognised the need for more housing for middle-income households, to fill the gap between social and market-rate housing. However, players took into account residents’ needs beyond just housing when creating their proposals. Discussions covered a variety of other elements related to placemaking, including high-quality public space, and cultural and educational infrastructure such as good schools, and collective workplaces. In addition, densification along the principles of ULI’s definition of ‘good density’1 was important to accommodate the high demand for housing, including increasing density, profiting from existing transit infrastructure hubs and improving them, creating mixed-use areas, and further integrating resident income groups. These associations also created opportunities for various housing stakeholders to contribute to the overall quality and cohesion of an area.

3. Managing the existing housing stock is part of the solution.

Players also recognised the need for alternative approaches in areas where it will not be possible to increase the supply of housing through new construction. In areas such as the city centre where land is scarce, players focused on strategies to manage the existing stock in a way that will create a greater diversity of housing options so that it is easier for people to change housing when their needs change. Priorities for management of the existing stock included ensuring that housing remains affordable, assessing whether tenants are in housing that fits their income, and carrying out sustainability upgrades where required.

4. Sustainability and circularity are integral to new construction.

Players saw sustainable, circular building practices as a necessary part of new housing construction. In addition, teams discussed the importance of retrofitting existing housing to carry out sustainable upgrades. Besides benefiting the environment, there is a business case for these practices as energy costs will decrease and the life of buildings could be extended. While there was a common understanding of the value of this, players did note that these requirements could be an obstacle to creating affordable housing, due to the increase in construction costs.

5. Leveraging transportation infrastructure is part of the affordability equation.

When discussing the benefits and disadvantages of particular sites around the city, players highlighted that the existence of high-quality public transportation infrastructure is an important part of the affordability equation. In parts of the city like IJburg or the South East, there is the opportunity to increase transport capacity. In addition, creating new infrastructure can be a part of making new affordable housing developments viable. Many players noted that an area’s level of connection to the rest of the city could attract or deter potential residents. This also highlights the importance of developing partnerships and creating investment opportunities to improve infrastructure and make more areas desirable as locations for affordable housing.

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