Living in Amsterdam: Dutch Housing, Gentrification and Rent Control

In Amsterdam – and the Netherlands generally – the housing stock is tightly controlled by Dutch planning and administrative agencies, minimizing the forces of gentrification significantly. Neighborhood change as its experienced in the U.S. differs vastly in Holland. With such strict Dutch planning and policies on housing, neighborhoods fluctuate much less dramatically than can be said of neighborhoods like Boston’s South End or New York’s Williamsburg.

Approximately 50 percent of Amsterdam’s housing supply is categorized as social housing, an umbrella term for public housing and any other form of affordable housing. 40 percent is owner-occupied, and the rest is private rental market.

In terms of administration, the American analogue to the Dutch system rests with the public housing agencies which are quasi-federal entities. In Holland, private, profit-driven public housing associations with public goals administer social housing on a market tightly regulated by the Dutch government. Capital is pooled together for access by individual associations and is backed by the associations collectively. That capital is then double-backed by the Dutch government, making capital fairly low-cost.

Amsterdam also maintains a system of rent control, a policy against which, among many American academics, the arguments are numerous. Northeastern University’s Dr. Barry Bluestone argues likewise in a 2004 Globe article:

One problem is housing supply. Landlords who try to avoid raising rents to prevent costly litigation are less likely to maintain their properties, speeding deterioration of the existing rental stock.

Could rent control work if the rules were different? In Amsterdam, the makeup of the housing supply as it is managed is quite different than in Boston, where the incentives for capital improvements differ. Bluestone argues rightly that landlords in the private market have little incentive to maintain their properties under the policy. Although likely impossible, changing the ownership structure of American housing stock may change the rules in favor of a sustainable rent control program.