The right to housing

Housing in the Netherlands

Housing and access to housing are important and topical issues in the Netherlands. Homelessness has doubled over the past 10 years, young people are forced to live with their parents for longer periods of time, the waiting lists for social housing are growing rapidly, and buying a house is not an option for most people due to rapidly rising house prices. The housing shortage is becoming a real problem for more and more people in the Netherlands. The government has a duty to provide sufficient housing. The right to housing is included in article 22 paragraph 2 of the Dutch Constitution.

The right to housing is a human right

The right to housing is also recognized at the international level. The right to housing is a fundamental socioeconomic human right that can be found in article 31 of the European Social Charter and article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights also gives substance to this right.

The core of the right to housing in international and European treaties is not only about quantity (sufficient housing), but also about quality: housing must be “adequate”. Housing is more than simply a roof over your head. The right to adequate housing means that people have the right to live somewhere in safety, peace and dignity.

It is not easy to enforce this human right in proceedings before the Dutch courts. As a result, there is still little case law on the right to housing.

Case study: the Tweebosbuurt in Rotterdam

The right to housing plays an important role in a court case about evictions in the Tweebosbuurt (‘Tweebos neighbourhood’) in Rotterdam.

The Tweebosbuurt is a neighbourhood in the Afrikaanderwijk in Rotterdam-South. It is a neighbourhood with many social housing units. In September 2020, housing corporation Vestia informed residents that the neighbourhood would be demolished. Most of the social housing will make way for more expensive homes, so that it will not be possible for many of the residents to return. According to Vestia, the demolition of the neighbourhood fits within Rotterdam’s housing policy. This policy is drawn up in the Woonvisie 2030.

The Woonvisie 2030 aims to change the “socioeconomic balance” in the city in favor of middle and higher income groups. Poor(er) people are thus less welcome in the city. Despite the national housing crisis, Rotterdam’s housing policy aims to reduce the stock of affordable housing. The Woonvisie aims to demolish 13,500 affordable houses by 2030. This policy may result in people with low incomes, including a relatively large number of people with a migrant background, being forced to leave the city.

A number of residents from the Tweebosbuurt disagreed with the demolition of their homes and refused to leave. To enforce their departure, Vestia went to court. In January 2020, the Rotterdam subdistrict court ruled in part of the cases that the residents should not be evicted from their homes. In doing so, the judge explicitly referred to the fundamental right to housing, stating that Vestia had not shown that this right “is sufficiently guaranteed for all residents of the Tweebosbuurt in particular and for all people of modest means in general.”

Most people have since moved out of the neighbourhood, but some of the residents refuse to do so. Their cases are now on appeal. Although the Court of Appeal has not yet considered the case, Vestia has already started demolishing the vacant homes in the neighbourhood.

In April 2021, five UN Special Rapporteurs, including the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to housing, sent a very critical letter to the municipality of Rotterdam. In this letter, the Rapporteurs express their concerns about an (imminent) violation of the right to housing and the right to non-discrimination by the Rotterdam housing policy. The UN Special Rapporteurs also address the situation in the Tweebosbuurt.

What does PILP-NJCM do?

The case of the Tweebosbuurt touches upon the essence of the right to housing. According to PILP-NJCM, it is therefore important that sufficient weight is given to this fundamental human right in the ongoing court case about the evictions in the Tweebosbuurt and in the Court of Appeal’s decision (see above).

PILP-NJCM has therefore written an amicus curiae (a kind of opinion letter) to the The Hague Court of Appeal. In this letter (in Dutch), PILP-NJCM explains what the important elements of the right to housing are, and how these elements may be taken into account in the court case.

The court case about the evictions in the Tweebosbuurt takes place within the legal framework of tenancy law. According to PILP-NJCM, the right to housing should play an important role in the balancing of interests that should take place according to the norms of tenancy law.

PILP-NJCM hopes that the Court of Appeal will want to include human rights in its considerations.

Updates

On October 26, 2021, the oral pleadings will take place at the Court of Appeal of The Hague in the case about the Tweebosbuurt.

On Sunday, September 12, 2021, a large demonstration will take place in Amsterdam against the housing crisis. On October 17, a similar protest will take place in Rotterdam, and on November 13 in The Hague.

On September 9, 2021, Recht op de Stad (‘Right to the City’, an initiative of residents’ groups from various neighborhoods in Rotterdam) published a summary of PILP-NJCM’s letter on their website (in Dutch).

On September 6, 2021, PILP-NJCM has sent an amicus curiae (opinion letter) to the The Hague Court of Appeal, addressing the application of the right to housing in the ongoing court case about evictions in the Tweebosbuurt. The opinion letter can be downloaded here (in Dutch).

On July 12, 2021, Jelle Klaas spoke at an expert meeting organized by Recht op de Stad (‘Right to the City’) about the letter from the UN Special Rapporteurs. The conversation can be listened to here (in Dutch).