Expat Mike Russell, who has lived in Amsterdam for twenty years, fondly remembers his first house rental experience and compares it to the home rental scene today.
It seems like only yesterday that a rental agent met my flight at Schiphol and, within two hours, had rented me a ground-floor apartment in Amsterdam’s Bergstraat. I recall a short, narrow street which housed a lot of apparently single women, who would wave at me as I walked home at night.
The wall and ceiling mirrors were – and looking back I see this now – a clue. But I rented the place and lived in happy ignorance for my first year. My point, however, is this: it was an efficient use of my time in a process unencumbered by bureaucracy and there was no recourse to rule books thicker than telephone directories.
Two decades later, the situation is very different. The Amsterdam housing business, which I now work in, has moved from its laid-back approach to ‘doing the right thing’ and lurched towards lunacy with various government agencies tripping over each other in the scramble to excerpt their influence on this fine city.
Amsterdam in Business
On the one hand there is Amsterdam in Business – the city’s official foreign investment agency – spending a lot of tax payers’ money trying to attract companies to the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area. These are tough times – companies have choices as other cities throughout Europe fish in the same corporate pond. Amsterdam in Business seems to be doing a decent job if judged by the number of requests we receive for housing. Although not every enterprise will immediately establish a huge operation in Amsterdam, a growing number are tentatively exploring setting up here and look for flexible housing solutions to help them get going in the initial period.
Other government initiatives are also assisting those transitioning to life in Amsterdam. The Expat Center, for example, based in the World Trade Center offers fast, professional assistance on many aspects of settling in such as permits, bank accounts, and city-hall registration.
Not a touch of irony so far but now, finally, we come to the other hand and the local government agency that sets and implements housing policy in Amsterdam: Dienst Wonen. ‘Wonen’ translates as ‘living’ which has a friendly ring to it. Recently, this agency has renamed itself Dienst Wonen, Zorg en Samenleven which more or less reads as ‘Living, care, and living together’ – also quite nice. The problem – at least as I see it – is that in striving for perfect social cohesion had lead DWZS down a path that clashes head-on and at high-speed with other government agencies in respect of housing policy. While not every visitor to The Netherlands needs a visa, schools for kids or even a bank account – they all need a roof of one sort or another.
While Amsterdam in Business bends over backwards and forwards to attract businesses here, DWZS says that if you want an apartment in the city of Amsterdam for a period of SIX nights to SIX months then you need to adhere to the newly rolled out short-stay policy. This policy was at least SIX years in the making so I refer to it hereafter as policy-666. In brief, if you want a short-stay, then policy-666 says you can only stay in an apartment with a permit and, guess what, there are not many permits. In fact, there are only about 1300 permits for the entire city.
Putting expats off moving to Amsterdam
This is the ironic bit. Amsterdam in Business, the Expat Center and others parties are funded by the tax payer to attract business and make settling in as easy as pie. DWSZ – also funded by the tax payer – are making it increasingly difficult for expats to come to Amsterdam on the short-flexible assignments typified by both companies exploring setting up in a new location and these uncertain economic times where employers look to more supple arrangements. DWSZ argue that part of their mandate is to protect the balance of the city. I can understand that. Many of us come to Amsterdam for just this balance. But the new rules will have the opposite effect to that intended. The employers of expats are being persuaded by Paris, mesmerised by Madrid and seduced by Stockholm. These cities want expats to come. International companies create local jobs; their people eat in restaurants, and pay a lot of taxes.
No one wants streets lined wall-to-wall with expats renting expensive apartments and driving out the locals.
I am an expat and even I would not like to live next to myself. But pushing this important international community out of the local mix is surely not the solution.
Amsterdam is one of the most, if not the most, draconian of European cities in this respect to housing policy.
The policy-666 is already creating a swamp of grey properties as owners – determined to avoid the rules that prevent them from renting their apartments – flock to unregulated listing sites offering no protection to would-be tenants.
Please (note begging tone) – political people, local government officials and other random influencers – have a rethink. Otherwise, we’ll all be on the bus to sunny Barcelona and be taking our expenditure and tax revenue with us.
Mike Russell (Managing Partner, at Perfect Housing BV, www.perfecthousing.nl)
January 2010, © Mike Russell
Photo credits: Michele Carloni