Majority of Brussels' 700 abandoned buildings repurposed

Majority of Brussels' 700 abandoned buildings repurposed
An abandoned building in Laeken, Brussels. Credit:

The Brussels-Capital Region was home to just under 700 abandoned buildings in 2021, Public Patrimony Lydia Mutyebele told the Brussels City Council on Monday evening.

It is often quoted that Brussels has 1 million m2 of unused building space whilst property prices are at the same time going through the roof. Yet Mutyebele indicated that the vacancy issue is being addressed as the majority of the buildings have been repurposed.

The number of vacant buildings in Brussels increased from 652 in 2019 to 694 in 2021, while the number of abandoned sites also went up from 111 to 121. So far, no fewer than 551 empty buildings have been repurposed to combat vacancy.

Mutyebele put this down largely to the pandemic, which in particular saw offices left largely empty as teleworking became the norm. Even as public health restrictions have been lifted, many companies have made a permanent shift to more flexible working patterns. In many cases, businesses are downsizing their workspaces as a way to cut costs.

Yet it isn't only commercial space that is sitting unused – in some cases, residential properties have also been left unoccupied.

Development Strategies

The City of Brussels has tasked itself with finding solutions to building vacancies through its Development Strategies unit (CSD). This aims to deal with the issue of unoccupied housing and is based on a census carried out every two years, since 2015.

The CSD unit currently has two full-time employees who find solutions for the disused space, but Mutyebele has called for greater resources to tackle the issue more effectively. “We hope to get more. We are negotiating with the Brussels Government to get two more full-time equivalents,” she said.

Bruno Bauwens, a Brussels MP, questioned whether the City makes sufficient use of its powers of expropriation, by which it can reclaim abandoned buildings to be repurposed. In 2019, it did this only once; in 2021, there were three cases.

However, Mutyebele argued that these measures entail long and cumbersome legal procedures.

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