Written by Jessica van Horssen
I grew up in a city near Amsterdam, and when I turned 17 I moved out to the big city. I have always loved the city for its diversity, its open-mindedness, and its cultural heritage. However, over the past 10 years, it has become increasingly difficult for people from lower or lower-middle class backgrounds to find affordable housing.
Something I wondered about along the way is whether or not housing should be seen as a basic human right. We all need the basics to survive, food, water, shelter, and community, yet somehow those basics have been turned into commodities. Something with which to acquire and exercise power over others. It’s absurd that in these modern times, we still have to fight to have our basic needs met, while there is, in fact, plenty for everyone.
According to article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, everyone has the right to an adequate standard of living, a standard which includes food, clothing, and housing, and to the continuous improvement of their living conditions. This implies that governments have a duty to create affordable opportunities for living for their citizens. In actual fact, the ‘financialization’ of housing appears to be a growing phenomenon, to the extent that housing is becoming disconnected from its social function. This contributes to the growing levels of inequality experienced by residents of cities like Amsterdam. With homelessness rates reaching 49% in cities like LA, it looks like governments are failing to help us.
Data from Statistics Netherlands (CBS) and Kadaster show the biggest price increases for resale properties in 16 years when comparing house prices in January 2018 with the same month in 2017. That puts the Netherlands in third place in Western Europe when it comes to the increase of house prices; in 2017, they rose by 8,2 percent. In that year, only Portugal and Ireland’s house prices increased at high rates, 12,5 and 11,8 percent respectively. Wealthy people, with higher levels of education, are able to find a house much more easily, simply because they are able to afford these skyrocketing prices. While bankers from London find house prices in Amsterdam relatively cheap in comparison, their moving to Amsterdam pushes the prices up still further.
But it’s not only about Amsterdam. Speaking to friends from the States, Canada, and other countries, it is clear that the same problem seems to exist everywhere. And it all comes down to the capitalization of housing. Houses shouldn’t be something to make money off. Housing should be a basic human right!
Article 22 (2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.”
Well, as a single mother and full-time university student I struggled over the past two years to find an affordable house, without any success. Friends ask why I don’t apply for something called a “Priority Case” for social housing, and are surprised to hear that when I did apply I was rejected. Twice. The reason for the rejection was that I already have a place, and if the house I currently live in (which I accepted with the father of my child) is too expensive, I should have never accepted it in the first place.
If you don’t laugh, you cry. I was lucky to have found this place. If I hadn’t, I would now be homeless with a kid. The municipality also said I should go check into the homeless shelter. I asked the woman straight to her face if she had children, and whether she would go check into a homeless shelter if she was in my situation. I was then told by the housing committee that I had no right to ask any personal questions to a person representing the municipality.
It’s outrageous how government institutions treat hard-working young people – sending them off to a homeless shelter rather than actually helping them to realize a better future. A homeless shelter is a great place to raise a kid! It is hard to see how that Article 22 is being put into practice by the government in this story.
But this isn’t just about me. I know other struggling single mothers, mothers who are way worse off than me. And even two-parent households, and students without dependent children, are faced with difficulties. Barratt Developments found that in Amsterdam 37% of the wages are spent on rent. If housing is defined as a basic human right, it is absurd that nearly 40% of our time and energy goes to being able to afford a roof over our heads.
We have the right to live, or we wouldn’t have been born. We have the right to eat and drink water. And since governments are the institutions tasked with preserving order, defending against external enemies and managing economic conditions, they should provide affordable housing for their people, ensuring that the human rights treaties they signed are executed in a proper manner. If you ask me what’s wrong with politics today, I would say that capitalism has become a disease. Politics is money driven, and people have been taken out of the equation. Let’s not forget that human capital is valuable as well. So if governments are truly serious about managing economic conditions, wanting economies to flourish, they had better start taking people into consideration.