New rules introduced by the Flemish government will make it harder for the most vulnerable people to gain access to social housing, tenant groups say.
According to the Flemish Tenants’ Platform and the Network Against Poverty, last year there were 170,000 people on the waiting list for a social rental – a property, usually an apartment, made available by the local council for a low rent to low-income tenants.
But at the same time, the number of municipal properties available for rent was only 165,000, fewer than the number of applicants.
Social renting platforms were able to source another 11,000 apartments on the private rental market for social rents, but the criteria for renting those are different and the numbers still did not match up.
Just before summer this year, the Flemish government approved new allocation guidelines to come into effect in 2023. However, these rules will only affect how applicants can get on a waiting list and does nothing to help them obtain housing itself.
One of the changes affects what is called ‘local connection’. Until now, in most cases, local councils would require an applicant to have spent three of the last six years in the municipality where they are applying.
Under the new system of local connection, an applicant will have to have lived locally for a constant period of five of the last ten years.
“The most vulnerable often have what we call a dislocated housing history,” says Joy Verstichele of the Tenants’ Platform.
“They have to move more often, because of bad housing or psychosocial problems. In addition, you punish those who move for a job or to escape partner violence.”
The rule also disadvantages refugees, said Björn Mallants, director of the Flemish Association of Housing Societies.
“Their period of five years only starts from their recognition by authorities and they often do not immediately have a stable living situation afterwards.”
There are more conditions in the new rules: 50% of available homes should go to people on the waiting list; 30% go to target groups decided by the municipality; and only 20% are reserved for those in serious housing need.
“That way the most vulnerable are affected,” Verstichele told De Morgen.
Flemish minister for housing Matthias Diependaele (N-VA) dismissed the criticism as fishing for votes.
“Our intentions are clear,” he said. “We made the rules on social rent fairer and more equitable in order to strengthen support for social housing.”