Sunday, November 01, 2009

Going Dutch

The Netherlands seems poised to demolish the 1970s law that made squatting legal so long as a building had been vacant for a year.
'On Thursday, a parliamentary majority consisting of centre-right parties voted in support of the so-called Squatting Ban, a bill drafted by Christian Democrat MP Jan ten Hoopen. Housing Minister Eberhard van der Laan has already let it be known that he will not stand in the way of the bill. While not a fervent advocate of the ban, he regards non-occupancy as "an issue that's too important to be left to the squatters".'

Radio Netherlands Worldwide
has the sad details.

8 comments: said...

The sad news is relative really. The traditionally strongly organized, politically savvy and militant dutch squatters movement is not going to stop its activities, just because some lawmakers say they have to.

The base for squatting in the Netherlands, is the rampant shortage of affordable housing. This problem is not about to be solved anytime soon (unfortunately).

The proposed law has not passed the first chamber of dutch parliament yet, but probably will. Nevertheless, the governments of about _all_mayor cities have already made clear not to enforce a ban on squatting. Even high police offices have uttered serious doubts about its feasibility in public.

The squatters movement itself has rather profited from all the commotion. Many groups that have been in half-sleep for a number of years, now buckle up, sharpen their crowbars, and seize the empties. There is a rather unusual sense of unity in the traditionally decentralized dutch
squatters world, that, feeling their adversaries breathing in their neck, stage national demonstrations and action days and position itself defiant.
Additionally there has been a number of solidarity actions in several european countries.

The proposed law itself has mostly symbolic character, as its supporters state themselves. 'Stay away with your hand from other someone else's property' is their credo. For the rest, no one really seems to deny, that it constitutes no real solution to the real problems modern urbanism faces in a densely populated country that the Netherlands are.

For the rest, its introduction will undoubtedly put a number of fundamental distribution question on the agenda, something that the squatters always thrived for, and something that their adversaries actually fear.

don't worry too much, because in the end, revolutionary activities have always been illegal.

greetz from the amsterdam barricades

rn said...

Sikes: Thanks for the inspirational update. I'm glad that the law has not yet passed and that the police even doubt that it can be enforced if it passes.

It's good that you see the glass half full. As you accurately point out, these kinds of things can actually spur organizing and radical activity and at least they put what you call "fundamental distribution questions" on the agenda. I worry, though, about complacency and an increasing gap between mainstream viewpoints and the squatters.

But I accept your words, as you are on the ground in Amsterdam.

I'm going to be in Rotterdam for a few days in mid-December, and I hope I'll be able to spend some time at the barricades myself.

typeface said...

I am looking for contact information for Robert Neuwirth. Email preferably. I am an editor of an architectural journal and would like to send you an abstract of our upcoming issue.


Kurt Evans
Editor, Perspecta 45:Agency

rn said...

Hey Kurt:

You've got me. Why don't you let me know your email and then I can email you my contact info.

rob neuwirth

typeface said...

Hi Rob,
The best is


Alex Harne said...

I heard a statistic recently that their are more abandoned homes in Philadelphia then there are homeless people. I was wondering what you think about the bureaucracy behind owning a home in our major cities. What is keeping people from owning, and even renting when there are so many homes?!

rn said...


Great question.

Two questions back. First: do you have the statistics? Second: do you know if those properties are city-owned or privately owned?

If quite a number of the properties are city-owned, there's an opportunity for an organizing campaign to get the politicos to do the right thing with them.

If privately-owned, well, groups could go after the banks that hold the mortgages on them. If one bank wound up writing or holding many of the loans, that could have an impact. But the results are unpredictable. Private ownership seems to include the right to hold your home vacant for decades, even in a housing criss. Unfortunately, we have never enshrined a social interest in housing in the law. The model of our housing market is essentially managed scarcity.

rn said...

And there certainly are lots of ways that our concept of property could be changed without violating private ownership. For instance, we allow zoning and planning and code requirements, even though these are restrictions on the absolute right of ownership. So we could legislate fines on landlords who hold apartments vacant in a housing crisis. Or we could make landlords get a special permit to hold an apartment vacant, requiring them to prove a particular social purpose. These are not hard and fast proposals. They are simply ideas as to how we could begin to add the social interest to the laws regarding property.

As for city owned buildings, I think many governments (Detroit, Indianapolis, etc.) are making a big mistake by demolishing housing. There should be a quick route to getting these buildings into the hands of homesteaders. Vacant lots breed more vacant lots. A Homestead Act for the 21st century would do a lot to renew the social contract that built America.