Many hundreds of houses in Utrecht are empty, why is little done about it?

Hundreds of houses in Utrecht have been empty for more than a year. The council knows this too, but they don’t do much about it. That is not possible, according to much of the city council. “It is impossible that there is no policy for this kind of long-term vacancy in times of housing shortage,” says councilor Gert Dijkstra of the EenUtrecht political party. Why is nothing happening?

Finding affordable housing in Utrecht is not easy; supply is tight, demand is high, and prices have risen sharply, partly as a result. According to Funda, there are now around 1,000 homes for sale throughout the municipality. But there is also a large group of houses in Utrecht where people could live, but have been completely empty for some time. The most recent figures show that there are more than 1,500 homes that have been unoccupied for more than a year. That long-term vacancy needs to be addressed seriously, according to many politicians. The municipality has been asking this for years, but now the tone has become more convincing.

fines

Amsterdam is already much further along. There, the owners have to work hard when a building becomes vacant. For example, there is an obligation to report and the municipality will consult with the owners if a house has been unoccupied for three months. To this is added the plan that the municipality can force the owners to make a house habitable and inhabited again within a certain period of time. Owners can also be fined if they don’t cooperate.

But why have those 1,500 houses in Utrecht been empty for so long? That is not known now. The municipality of Utrecht actually knows very little about these houses, except that there is an administrative vacancy. Nobody is registered and according to WOZ there is no user of the property. In 2017, a motion was already passed for the city council to start with a vacancy ordinance. Such regulation is, so to speak, a toolbox that can be used to tackle vacancy in homes, but also in offices and shops.

Apparently, the city took quite a long time to think about this motion, because a response was received in 2021. That reaction, by the way, seemed promising for politicians and residents who favor a tough approach. Councilman Kees Diepeveen saw something in such a regulation and has already mentioned numerous possibilities; obligation to report for long-term unemployment, determine maximum rents and even the possibility that the municipality propose tenants to owners of unoccupied properties. If the homeowner does not cooperate, the municipality can impose fines.

By the way, this type of measure should not be taken lightly, as it can lead to a violation of property rights. Some parties also believe that homeowners should know what to do with their house, leaving it empty should be possible.

Money

After Councilman Diepeveen reacted positively to the opportunities for a vacancy ordinance in 2021, it was still not a race. The regulation has not yet entered into force. Reason for the city council to sound the alarm again in February of this year. Again the councilman responded: “We see the added value of a vacancy ordinance and a vacancy approach. Vacancy at the current time of housing shortage is not acceptable.”

‘Given the multitude of actions to address the housing market, we had to make decisions’

But then it also became clear why it has been discussed for years, but there is still no regulation or comprehensive approach: money. Councilor Diepeveen wrote of this: “Given the multitude of actions to address the real estate market, we had to make decisions. These options are based in part on the files that have been resourced in the budget. Since there is no budget in the budget for the vacancy approach (mainly needed for monitoring and enforcement), this has not been addressed. As soon as there are financial resources for oversight and enforcement, we can get to work on this.”

not agreed

However, the council does not seem to agree with this answer. This week the issue was discussed again and now ten political parties are asking the municipal council to get down to work. The councilor’s previous response that it would be financial resources is ruled out as evasive and inadequate.

“If a majority of councilors ask for an approach to something, the municipal executive must naturally answer yes or no (or maybe) and if so, present a proposal for it, including the associated costs and income, and the possible financing for that. focus. . Only based on this can we as a municipal council make a decision and release the necessary economic resources for the requested approach. So it won’t do any good if the city executive mistakenly turns the whole thing on its head and first asks the city council to release financial resources, after which it is only prepared as a council to come to an approach.”

Politics

Gert Dijkstra is a councilor for EenUtrecht, the party that has just been elected to the council since the last election. He says: “For five years, since the adoption of the motion in 2017, the university has been waiting. It seems inconceivable to me that there is no policy for this type of long-term vacancy in times of housing shortage. Of course, landlords may have good reason to leave something vacant for more than a year. Therefore, the policy should not always be implemented too rigidly. But at the moment there is simply no policy at all. We cannot make exceptions to the rule, because there are no rules. There is no big stick and therefore no incentive for owners to start with their vacant property.”

Furthermore, Dijkstra thinks it’s a good thing that GroenLinks councilor Pepijn Zwanenberg has been asking for a vacancy ordinance for years: “But it’s remarkable that a GroenLinks councilor asks a GroenLinks councilor all the time for a policy, but the councilor again asks the council for financial support room. That way we can move forward in the coming years”. Through written questions, the parties ask EenUtrecht, Party for the Animals, DENK, PvdA, SP, BIJ1, PVV, Volt, VVD and GroenLinks to submit a draft for a vacancy ordinance in Utrecht before September.


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