"The lack of affordable housing is glaring in Brussels" - Immo

“The lack of affordable housing is glaring in Brussels” – Immo

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One in two Brussels residents meets the criteria for social housing. Real estate developers are called upon to accelerate production and solve part of the supply deficit. The densification of the municipalities of the second ring is at the heart of the strategy. It remains to convince the local councilors…

Attention, new breath. The Brussels State Secretary for Housing, Nawal Ben Hamou, intends to make a clean sweep of past methods to accelerate the production of affordable housing in Brussels. A societal issue in a city where the real estate market is becoming increasingly segmented.

Attention, new breath. The Brussels State Secretary for Housing, Nawal Ben Hamou, intends to make a clean sweep of past methods to accelerate the production of affordable housing in Brussels. A societal issue in a city where the real estate market is becoming increasingly segmented. TRENDS-TRENDS. When it comes to housing in Brussels, no one seems happy at the moment: developers, people looking for affordable housing, associations, etc. How can we explain that we managed to accumulate so many problems? NAWAL BEN HAMOU. This is due to a lack of vision, long-term strategy, communication and tools to accelerate housing production. The key to success today is dialogue. You have to understand each other’s interests. Nor can we ignore the problem of issuing permits, which is far too long. We were able to find a solution for social housing with the establishment of a fast lane (permit in 75 days maximum). But we must go further. With already convincing results? The promoters have indeed discovered the interest they had in working with us. On our side, appealing only to the public to build social housing does not allow us to achieve our objectives. The first files have been approved (a private project must provide a minimum of 25% of public housing to meet the criteria, Editor’s note). Nevertheless, urban.brussels (a structure that issues permits, editor’s note) will have to show more flexibility at some point. Because there is a real urgency to create housing. To live in a healthy city, you have to be able to adapt to the realities on the ground. And don’t waste your time on some trivialities. How to further accelerate the pace? It must be admitted that over the past 20 years, the method used has not made it possible to obtain satisfactory results in terms of the production of affordable housing, even if there were ambitions. It was therefore necessary to be innovative in the procedures put in place and to change mentalities. Because certain working methods within the SLRB (Société du logement de la Région de Bruxelles-Capitale) were unsuitable and inefficient. A new renovation and acquisition strategy has therefore been introduced. When we look at our latest figures, we can say that we are on the right track. And that we have won the trust of private promoters because we have substantial budgets to achieve our ambitions. In two years, we have created as many homes as in the past 15 years: 1,633 homes have come out of the ground in the last two housing plans. By the end of 2022, we will have 1,800 housing units. The key, in fact, is to follow each project closely. Every month, I meet Pascal Smet (Secretary of State for Town Planning, Editor’s note) to advance the files. Which is not normal in an ideal world… Yes, but I want to move forward and make the whole administration responsible. Without this, it is not possible to advance at the pace we want. The Brussels market is increasingly segmented. Can we today speak of a housing crisis in Brussels? Yes of course. We currently do not have enough answers to offer to the 50,407 households on the waiting list for social housing. Not to mention the 150,000 Brussels residents who rent accommodation on the private market even though they meet the conditions for obtaining social housing. They sometimes dedicate 40% of their income to their housing. It is not tenable. Note that the lack of housing is not the problem, but the lack of affordable housing. And the numbers show that the situation is getting worse. One in two households could qualify for social housing policies. Creating affordable housing is causing some tension in one or the other municipality. How do you intend to convince these local councilors? Through dialogue. The government agreement includes the ambition to achieve 15% social housing for the entire territory of the Region. We will not get there by the end of the legislature but it is towards this trajectory that we must aim. This explains why, as soon as I took office, I multiplied my contacts with the mayors and aldermen to see how we could work together. Densifying in the second ring is an obligation in the government’s city vision. Each municipality must agree to have a share of social housing in its housing stock. Some entities have more difficulty hearing this discourse, but it is essential to distribute the effort. I am open to discussion. In a meeting with the mayors, we put on the table all the projects that have been blocked for 10 years. And then we wonder about their future, to find an agreement. This is what we did, for example, with the mayor of Woluwe-Saint-Pierre in the case of the Dames Blanches site. We must explain our approach and recall the need for affordable housing for the people of Brussels. So it doesn’t necessarily have to be social housing. But fine speeches have multiplied in recent years. Why believe that anything will really change today? Just look at our numbers. But the real changes will be felt, it is true, during the next legislature. All the actors have been met. Having local elected officials with us is an asset and facilitates our work. Which is obviously not the case everywhere. For the rest, all the municipalities where we own are of interest to us. And we have, historically, land in almost every municipality. The problem is when we are told that these lands must be reserved for green spaces. But no. It is not because no project has been developed that this land has come off the radar. Whether it’s the Chant des Cailles in Boitsfort or another one. Especially since I want exemplary projects. Does this new debate between densification and biodiversity make no sense to you? It is absurd to oppose the two. Most of our projects combine densification and green spaces. Combining community facilities and green spaces with affordable but well thought out housing is the key to success. The latest projects that we have inaugurated demonstrate this. They have nothing to envy to quality private projects. This is no longer the social housing of 20 years ago. I want us to develop eco-neighborhoods that make reference. Your plan is to release 500 homes per year. Isn’t that too ambitious? Not at all. Our objective is fixed and it will be respected. The aim is to increase our stock by 4,450 housing units in projects that have begun or are about to come out of the ground (2,500 housing units delivered, 1,300 construction sites started + 650 acquisitions minimum). And this, by the end of the legislature. By working with the private sector, we will be able to achieve our objectives more quickly, whether through the purchase of turnkey housing, the conversion of offices into housing or the Public Housing Partnership, a partnership with private developers. These ambitions nevertheless remain too low to solve the problem when we see the number of households on the waiting list. What additional avenues should be put in place to achieve this? The construction of social housing will not stop, regardless of future results. On the other hand, this does not appear in the government agreement, but the private rental market will have to be regulated one day. I will fight to include it in the next government agreement. This is inevitable in order to allow the inhabitants of Brussels to find accommodation in acceptable conditions. The increase in rents does not allow them to follow. This is practiced in some European cities. Rent control is no longer a taboo, even if we remain very conservative on this point. Private promoters understand the situation and are open to discussion. If we want the people of Brussels not to leave their city, we will have to launch the debate. Because the construction of social housing will not be enough. I recognize it with no problem. Still, many small investors have bet everything on real estate… This is what the right often tells us. I don’t believe at all that this will slow down investment. Brussels will always remain attractive, whatever happens. Examples from other European cities show that investors have not left. You just have to communicate well on the subject and reach an agreement. The indexation of rents is another important subject. It is not normal to tolerate a price increase of 8%, without it being framed. Landlords whose housing is a real energy sieve will be able to increase their rent. It is unjustifiable. This is one of the current debates. How to reconcile the marketing of energy-efficient housing with affordable housing? It’s a real challenge. The Rénolution plan (340 million) should help owners renovate their property. We are going to add another aspect to this: owners who subscribe to the principle of subsidized housing will receive bonuses to renovate their property. Next, it is important that landlords who receive state subsidies apply affordable rent. The measure should be applied in 2023. There would be between 17,000 and 26,400 presumed unoccupied housing units in Brussels. How can they help solve the housing crisis? It was I who launched this study with the ULB researchers. We are going to refine these figures, which can be an important lever for action. Only six municipalities collected data. The Region has taken over. We will try to put them back on the market by informing owners of the different possibilities. It is an additional solution to create affordable housing. We expect 3,500 surveys per year.

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