Election debate focuses on housing and learning Dutch
A special local election debate held by Amsterdam's expat centre centered around increasing the supply of low-cost housing and the importance of learning Dutch.
The need to ensure Amsterdam increases the supply of low-cost housing and the importance of learning Dutch were among the issues discussed at a special local election debate organised by the city's expat centre.
Representatives from eight parties joined the debate, which was part of efforts to encourage Amsterdam's international residents to use their vote on March 19.
All EU citizens can vote in the local elections, as can other nationals who have officially lived in the city for more than five years.
The issue of housing, in particular the shortage of affordable appartments, was one of the highlights.
Labour's candidate Dennis Boutkan said the solution to the shortage is not to sell off more social housing.
"'One of the great things about Amsterdam is that there is social housing in all parts of the city," he said.
And GroenLinks spokesman Jorrit Nuijens said the mixture of different cultures and income levels makes Amsterdam a city people like to live in.
However, there are abuses, he said, pointing to the way housing earmarked as short-stay for expats is rented out to tourists.
Roderic Evans-Knaup, of local interest party Red (save) Amsterdam, pointed out that city centre rents in Amsterdam are still reasonable compared with places like London and Rome.
D66 spokesman Sebastiaan Capel highlighted the fact that just 10 percent of Amsterdam's housing stock is private rental.
More homes are needed for people on middle incomes, he said.
Johnas van Lammeren of the pro-animal PvdD and Socialist Party candidate Peter Kwint said more empty offices should be converted into housing.
This policy is already being carried out in parts of the city.
Marja Ruigrok, number two on the candidates list for the VVD, said it is absurd that so many restrictions remain on flat-sharing.
Amsterdam only recently approved changes to the housing regulations to allow more than two adults to share a home.
However, it is still banned in flats smaller than 60 m2.
The candidates were all agreed that it is useful to learn Dutch but none said they felt it should be compulsory.
The debate took place before the recent row over the VVD poster in Rotterdam which states 'in Rotterdam, we speak Dutch'.
D66's Capel said his party believes Amsterdam should become bilingual and that schools should be able to choose whether or not to offer education in English.
The CDA candidate Diederik Boomsma said learning Dutch is a cultural enrichment but that it is up to people themselves to make the effort to learn, not the council.
But the parties were divided about Amsterdam city council's decision to join trials to test out the impact of a 'participation contract' which all new arrivals to the city will be asked to sign.
The scheme is part of the VVD-PvdA national government's efforts to improve the integration of foreigners.
Labour spokesman Dennis Boutkan said it is important to assess how the idea of the contract works in practice, pointing out that it is only a year-long trial.
GroenLinks candidate Jorrit Nuijens described the policy as insulting, to applause from the audience.
There will be a local election debate for international residents of The Hague on Tuesday evening.
For more on the local elections click here.