Dutch Social Housing: A Long and Powerful Tradition

Linda Dreier | Patrick Kammerzelt | Philipp Ringswirth | Marlene Samhaber | Julia Staufer


Click here to read the first part of this series entitled 5 Austrians Define Dutch Social Housing

How a Schip impacted the social housing movement

Our trip started at Vienna’s famous Karl-Marx-Hof. As a first step in Amsterdam, we, therefore, decide to find its equivalent. The Het Schip building in Amsterdam, which was built in the 1930s and designed by Michel de Klerk, is Amsterdam’s number one monument representing social housing architecture. The housing complexes of the Amsterdam School were set as role models for housing innovations for other cities. (BUSQUETS 2014)

Nowadays the Het Schip still functions as a place for many people to live in but additionally provides space for a museum. The museum shows the history of social housing in the Netherlands and is placed in various parts of the building, like the former school for the working-class inhabitants of the Het Schip. (hetschip.nl)


And the bigger picture?

Social housing has a rich history in the Netherlands. It started out as private initiative in the middle of the 19th century. In the beginning of the 20th century the political climate of the liberal laissez-faire policy changed and so the state took a more intensive role in this topic. Broader societal problems took the state, in cooperation with ‘private forces’, to initiate a resolving for the benefit of the societal climate. The national government decreed housing a municipal responsibility, to be assisted by housing associations. (KOSTER 2015)

Over the next decades a so-called ‘semi-public system’ evolved in which housing associations received subsidies to build dwellings which are align with the conditions of the state. In the next decades, from the 1950s to the 1970s, the associations got more institutionalized and became more or less components of state operations. Their responsibility included even societal issues within the context of living. (KOSTER 2015)

In the mid-1990s, in line with its neoliberal agenda, the national government privatized the associations. The associations had always been private, but now they were financially decoupled from the government. The state cancelled all its subsidies to the housing corporations in exchange for a remittance of the corporations’ debts to the state. Now housing corporations could make their own choices about which type of dwellings they would like to construct and for what segments of the population, as long as they also provided social housing. (KOSTER 2015)


The associations of the 1990s were hybrid organizations that carried out public tasks but also had a market orientation. The associations offered housing to any household, irrespective of its position and background. (PRIEMUS 2001)

In the last years there is a trend towards the original domain of the associations because EU regulations prohibited corporations from engaging in profit-making activities. (KOSTER 2015) To find out more about how the EU intervened, please see our next article posting next week.

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