Belgium in Brief: Brussels, the capital of inequality?

Belgium in Brief: Brussels, the capital of inequality?
Credit: Belga

Capital cities are sometimes perceived as enclaves of the affluent, islands of wealth with all the comforts one could want on the doorstep. One-sided as this vision may be, it is no doubt the case that some cities are simply too expensive for lower earners, with the hungry advance of gentrification rendering neighbourhoods unaffordable for many.

Brussels is a little different. Whilst it is true that the city isn't getting any cheaper – the city has finally approved a rent cap to save tenants from being priced out – it nonetheless is home to some of the nation's lowest earners. Six of the city's 19 communes have average incomes below the national average. In Saint-Josse-ten-Noode, the per capita income is 46.3% lower than the national average.

To put a number on this, the average net taxable income of people living in Belgium was €19,671; in Saint-Josse it is just €10,564. Even for those who know Brussels, this figure is alarming. The average cost of renting in the city is over €1100, indicating that the neighbourhood risks falling prey to "ghettoisation".

Of course, we're dealing with averages and there are various forms of social assistance to provide for those on lower incomes. But clearly more needs to be done to prevent Brussels from being fragmented. And though the numbers might create an image of run-down districts with all the downsides this entails, it is worth mentioning that some of the most exciting urban and cultural developments are also being carried out in these areas. The reality is always more complex than the reputation.

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