Having a home is a necessity of life. It is a right. At least, it should be. But housing in the Netherlands has become a luxury item. Only accessible for the rich among us. Our government has made a choice to leave housing largely to the free market with all its consequences. I think that people should have a choice on how they live within their budget and I argue for more diversity in the housing supply and more opportunities for private construction.
A growing number of people want to decide how they live for themselves. To express their residential identity, as one might call it. Every person is unique; no two of us are the same. So why is there so little diversity in the housing supply? Why is it assumed that the entire population has roughly the same housing requirements? When you expose housing to the free market, then the residents’ perspective is neglected. Large parties in the construction sector usually do not think from the customer’s perspective, but from their wallet. As a result, mainly vinex projects and apartment complexes have been built during the last few decades and are still being built. And they are focused on families. If the construction sector and our government had paid a little attention, they would have seen an enormous increase in small households, including a large percentage of elderly people living alone. That increase will continue until at least 2045 according to the Dutch Statistics Bureau (CBS). In addition, there is growing awareness that we must make a transition to a more sustainable society. Smaller, more environmentally friendly homes, and homes that are sometimes partly or completely self-sufficient. Where do these people go with their housing requirements?
The enormous waiting lists for new and current Tiny House projects indicate that there is a strong need for this type of living and a great scarcity of living options. For example: the municipality of Groningen has received more than 600 registrations for the 30 places for Tiny Houses that they are making available in Westpark. Another example: Housing Association Casade received two hundred registrations within two days of their call for participants in a Tiny House housing project in Waalwijk. So, if people have their own unique residential identity and want to design their own living environment, and there is a great need for places where that is possible, why are not many more small (free) self-build plots being issued? The construction sector cannot cope with the demand for housing, and staff shortages and environmental restrictions such as the expiry of the PAS (Dutch policy on nitrogen) halt construction. Dear Government, tens of thousands of people are yearning for the opportunity to build or have their own small home built. These people leave homes when they get the chance, which others could use much more efficiently. Homes are often too big for the current resident who would love to live in a smaller house but cannot find a suitable place. Will you please pick up this gauntlet?
It seems as if we have become afraid of diversity in the Netherlands. It’s all about duplicating, merging, cloning and copying. Every innovation is immediately checked on its feasibility to be rolled out and scaled up. Globalization and centralization ensure that we want everything to be the same everywhere and that everything must be large and uniform. Why are we so afraid of diversity? We are unique beings, with unique wishes and dreams. Let us give them the space they deserve and celebrate diversity. The Tiny House movement breaks through that urge for uniformity. When it comes to housing, customization and diversity are really much better. When a home has been designed and built especially for you with exactly what you need, and which fits you like a tailored suit, you live in it much more pleasantly. Such a home should be accessible to everyone and not just to those who own a lot of money.
Building houses on a small scale such as Tiny Houses is financially feasible for a large group of people, especially if permanent locations are available so that you can get a mortgage. But then, those locations need to become available. It is therefore important that there are small affordable self-build plots. Municipalities, please adjust your zoning plans and housing policy so that, in addition to a percentage of social rental properties, every new housing development also includes a percentage of self-build plots where Tiny Houses may be built. Give people the freedom to choose how they live. Finally: when people want to do their bit for a sustainable society by building minimalistic, energy neutral, circular, nature inclusive and/or bio-based, then why not take that opportunity with both hands? You should give those people plenty of room, because they also help you achieve the objectives that you have as a municipality in that area. That seems like a wonderful win-win situation.
And I am not even talking about promoting transfer flow in houses, vitalization, fighting loneliness… But we will talk about that another time. ;)
The images in this blog are from Jacqueline Tellinga’s book: Small Living – Small Homes: The making of the Construction EXPO Tiny Housing in Almere. That is an absolute must and I will soon write more about it!