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14/6/2021 / Online only / Text: Jaap Draaisma, Daniel Leix-Palumbo

Sorting machine Amsterdam
Should I Stay or Should I Go

Amsterdam operates like a sorting machine: every year a large number of people enter the city, but almost as many are thrown out again. No money for an expensive house? Then, get out.

The number of people, especially young people, who enter Amsterdam each year has risen to record levels. Since the corona disaster, the influx has decreased, but still the numbers are enormous, both in terms of people arriving from abroad and from other parts of the country. Most newcomers, however, have left by the time they are 27. Even the youth of Amsterdam usually cannot find a permanent home in this city. You can only stay if you are so successful in the city’s new economy that you can afford to buy a house. Otherwise: get out.

Everyone is welcome
Talented people from all corners of the world are encouraged to make the most of their opportunities in Amsterdam: at tech companies, financial consultant firms, creative industries, platforms, universities, cultural institutions, and other international players. Thousands from outside the European Union (especially from India and the USA) receive a Blue Card to move to Amsterdam and do well-paid work here for a few years. Minimum year income: EUR 65,000.

Expats or knowledge migrants are hired by international companies for a few years and then have to leave again. Because of the Brexit, a whole series of international companies and institutions have moved from London to Amsterdam, along with their employees who buy a house here (and elsewhere in the Randstad).

But migrant workers come in all shapes and sizes: workers in the digital economy such as programmers, designers, developers, technicians who start at  banks, platforms, web shops, and the new distributors. Most of them come from Germany, France, Poland, Italy, Spain, or from any other EU country. They find  mostly temporary but fairly well-paid jobs. Construction and installation companies, which often largely rely on people from Eastern Europe, also pay reasonably good wages.

The more poorly paid jobs are for the newcomers, with or without "papers". These concern jobs in distribution centres and in the catering and cleaning industry, as at Schiphol Airport.
These jobs are part of the “new work” development : flexible, fast and uncertain. How fast this goes was shown by Gorilla in April-May 2021: suddenly hundreds of "jobs" were available and visible in the streets.

In addition there are artists from EU countries but also from outside the EU who can stay here for a few years (maximum 5, according to the Municipal rules) to work and/or live in a breeding space. Meanwhile, the number of foreign students has increased enormously: only at the UvA from 10% in 2015-16 to 28% now.

Finally, there is the group of asylum seekers and other refugees, even though they are officially not registered as "newcomers". If they receive a temporary residence permit, they become nominated status holders; for Amsterdam this involves small numbers: a few hundred status holders each year (now mainly from Syria, Ethiopia and Eritrea).

Welcome, but where to live?
Expats, knowledge migrants and Dutch yuppies usually start living in Amsterdam in the most expensive category of  free sector rental housing with rents between 1500 and 4500 euro per month (though prices in this category have fallen somewhat during the corona crisis). A large proportion of these big earners buy a house quickly, especially if they have a permanent contract and come from the Netherlands or the EU. They are co-responsible for the insane purchase prices: now on average above half a million euros.

With a temporary contract, the expats can afford the rents in the Zuidas. Since two years, the Zuidas is the district where most newcomers end up: a clear sign of the size of the group of well-earning newcomers. This also means a big difference with the situation in the 80s, 90s and 00s, when Amsterdam South-East (Bijlmer) received most newcomers and proudly called itself '”Arrival City”. Today, the Zuid district has become “Arrival City”.

Many young people and migrant workers end up in private rented accommodation with a rent between 1200 and 2000 euros. From a group of Polish construction workers who rent a free-sector house in Nieuw West for a few weeks through a temporary agency, to a group of friends who co-rent an expensive house; from a group of internationals who rent a flat in the new Friends Tower (behind the Adam Tower in Noord) to three students who together rent a shared house in the Staatsliedenbuurt.

And then there are all so-called “social” newly constructed projects. Many young people (whether highly educated migrant workers, students, or Amsterdam youth) can now find accommodation in one of the many youth complexes. Since 2015, there has been an explosion of mega-projects ranging from 100-odd to over 1000 "units". From Little Manhattan at Station Lelylaan to My Domain at Station Holendracht; from Student Hotels to Hotel Jansen (emphatically not a hotel but a "long stay); and from the towers of Wonam and Changes in Nieuw West and Southeast to the 150 new social housing units of De Key on Poeldijkstraat for international students. And the list goes on. And of course also hostels are a way to take your first steps in the city. Alone or in groups, so as to explore the city and look for work. Or on the couch at a friend's, in a car or a garage. Temporary living can be done in many ways.

Affordable housing is temporary housing
Despite the fact that living in Amsterdam has become increasingly expensive, the city still seems accessible to many newcomers. This has become possible mainly due to the turnaround in the rental housing market from permanent to temporary. Temporary housing has become the norm, both in new social housing developments and in the rental of existing housing.

This is mainly the result of national government policies: the 2015 Housing Act and the Housing Market Transition Act (2016; amended in 2020) allow for temporary rental contracts on a large scale. This was partly the result of years of lobbying by the Amsterdam housing associations De Key and Stadgenoot, which wanted to eliminate tenant rights in this way.

In addition, legal rent determination in 2015 ensured that rental properties in Amsterdam with more than 30 m2 ended up in the "free sector". In a few years' time, this created a "free housing market" where big money could have its way.

The last Minister of Housing, Stef Blok (VVD), visited international property fairs to recommend Dutch rental properties to international property investors. And did he succeed! The biggest world players such as Blackstone and Greystar are now active on the Amsterdam housing market. Large numbers of privately rented and owner-occupied houses were bought by investors. We all know the result: an enormous increase in prices on the market for owner-occupied houses and the private rental market.

And how happy they are now, those politicians from VVD, CDA, D66 and PvdA, who deliberately organised this. How glad they are that the “free” housing market now indeed has free rein, that they have made the Amsterdam housing market inaccessible for low and middle-income households, that good money can be made on the Amsterdam housing market. The job is done.

For most people, buying a house in Amsterdam has become unthinkable. Renting a house can be done reasonably quickly for amounts above 1500 per month. For permanent social housing you have to be registered for at least 10 years.

For young people, meanwhile, everything is temporary. You have to leave when your student card expires, or when you turn 27, or when your employment contract ends, or when you no longer want to share a house with a group of people.

Amsterdam Sorting Machine
Because of the temporary jobs and temporary housing, a huge selection is taking place: only a small group is able to stay; the rest has to leave. Amsterdam has become an enormous throughput location. Permanent employment contracts and permanent rented housing have rapidly disappeared since 2015. The opportunities to stay in Amsterdam, to build up a social, cultural and political life here, to develop in a broad sense, to “emancipate” yourself, and to contribute to Amsterdam: for most people none of this is possible anymore.  Amsterdam has become a sorting machine.

Amsterdam is becoming a jet set city, moreover. A city for the hip and happy few, where young talent has a few years to prove itself and conform to the standards of big money in order to stay. Amsterdam is now a Global City, a hub of the new digital and creative economy, for which the best talent is sorted and a lot of supporting and often underpaid services are needed. With a lot of money anything is possible in Amsterdam. The sorting machine sorts on success, money, and income.

We want to stay.
Amsterdam's youth, both native and newcomers, must be able to stay here. For this to happen, permanent employment contracts and permanent rent contracts will have to become the norm again. This requires a mad dash to the current economy of temporary projects and self-employment and a farewell to the owner-occupied house as the core of housing policy.
This can only be achieved if it is recognised that things cannot go on like this. If it is recognised  that it is unacceptable that most young people, whether born here or not, are being driven out of the city. Amsterdam needs a radical recognition of the right to live in the city, also for low and middle-income households.