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Fewer office conversions in 2020, but half involved creating housing

Some 420,000 square metres of redundant office space was either given a new lease of life or demolished in the Netherlands last year, according to a market analysis by real estate agents’ association NVM.

But despite the coronavirus pandemic and the mounting popularity of working from home, the total amount of vacant office space in the Netherlands remained around 4.45 million square metres, NVM Business said.

In 2019, 505,000 square metres of offices were either transformed for a new function or demolished.

Coronavirus

‘2020 certainly was special,’ said NVM Business chairman Sander Heidinga. ‘Coronavirus and measures to limit social contacts may have led to reduced demand for office space and lower investment volume, but both supply and returns remained stable… It is unclear if the wish to work from home is leading to reduced demand for office space.’

Over half (53%) of the office space which was taken off the market last year was converted in housing, 31% was demolished and 10% turned into a hotel.

In Amsterdam, for example, work on transforming the three Trinity Buildings office blocks in the Zuidoost district into 133 homes, most of which are aimed at the mid-market sector, is nearing completion. 

And in The Hague, the former transport ministry office complex, a listed building, is also being transformed in housing, for both rent and sale.

The government has set a target of creating 75,000 new homes a year up to 2025, to meet demand. And including conversions – such as transforming redundant offices into apartments – the total number of new homes created in 2020 did rise to 74,565, according to national statistics agency CBS.

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Legendary living for the over 55s in Utrecht

Work will start next year in Utrecht on building a special residential complex containing 150 apartments aimed at healthy and mobile people over the age of 55, and encouraging them to stay that way. 

The project, developed by Holland Metropole partner Dura Vermeer, is in the city’s Leidsche Rijn district and will cover 47,000 square metres when completed.

The aim of the Legends housing complex, says architects studio Architekten Cie, is to contribute to ‘happy aging’ by creating new forms of living in which people can lead a fun, active, healthy and meaningful life for longer.

Some 50 of the apartments will be rent controlled, and a further 50 will be mid-market, with a rent of between €750 and €1,200.

‘Once children have left home, many people start a new phase in their lives,’ Utrecht’s planning chief Klaas Verschuure said. ‘The people who come to live in Legends may well leave a home which a young couple can move into… this is how we get the housing market moving.’

The complex, which is virtually energy neutral, uses sloping paths, stairs, galleries and bridges to create differences in height and encourage movement, and the apartments surround a private garden for all residents.

The apartments can also be adapted in line with people’s care needs as they get older, Dura Vermeer said.  

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Major building projects need state support

The next Dutch government will have to invest almost €20bn to facilitate several major housing and infrastructure in the coming years, according to a report drawn up on behalf of housing minister Kajsa Ollongren.

Without a significant contribution from the state, new homes may not be built at the rate required and they will be more expensive than planned, the report, by the Rebel research group, said. Several of the projects are located in the Holland Metropole region.

In total, the 14 projects in the study involve building 436,000 new homes around the bigger Dutch cities, of which 210,000 can be completed by 2030 and 70% will be classed as ‘affordable’.

Most of the funding – €109bn of the €142bn – will come from private sources and local authorities will contribute €13.7bn. The rest of the money  – the equivalent of roughly €15,000 per property –  will need to come from central government resources, the report said.

The report includes €33bn for the cost of public infrastructure projects surrounding the developments, including expanding the Amsterdam metro system to Schiphol airport and a direct train link between Amsterdam and Almere.

It will be up to the next coalition to decide what what should happen next, Ollongren said in a reaction.

In February, an alliance of developers, construction companies, lobby groups, housing corporations and tenants associations said that one million new homes need to be built in the the Netherlands in the next 10 years to meet demand.

The organisations hope their plans will form the backbone of the next government’s strategy on housing.

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Homes are selling more quickly and for above the asking price

Half the homes which were sold on the open market in the Netherlands went for more than their asking price last year, according to new figures from national statistics agency CBS.

The figure is another illustration of the mismatch between supply and demand for owner-occupier homes. In 2015, just 7% of homes were sold for more than the seller originally asked for.

The figures also show that underbidding is no longer the norm. In 2015, 87% of homes were sold for below the list price, but this fell to 38% last year, the CBS said.

Quick sales

In addition, the researchers found that houses and flats are changing hands much more quickly than they used to. Last year, a property was on sale for an average of just two months, compared with 10 months in 2015.

The research was carried out on behalf of the home affairs ministry, which deals with housing-related issues and is under pressure to increase the supply through new building projects.

One million homes

Meanwhile, the construction sector institute EIB has warned meeting the one million new homes target drawn up by developers, local authorities and housing corporations will mean building in the countryside.

Current planning capacity can yield almost 600,000 homes in the seven most populous provinces, but this means some 300,000 homes still need a location, the EIB said in a new report.

‘These locations can be found in the green spaces around the cities, where there are also good opportunities to integrate housing into the environment,’ the EIB said. Focusing on building in more rural areas combined with inner-city housing, the institute said, will offer better opportunities to meet demand.

Strategy

EIB director Taco van Hoek told the Financieele Dagblad the bottleneck lies in the strategy to ‘first build in cities rather than in the countryside’.

Van Hoek told the paper that he hopes the report will be taken on board by the next cabinet which will be charged with putting the one million new homes strategy into practice.

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Rotterdam’s former post office is being restored to its former glory

After being empty for 13 years, work will start this summer on renovating one of Rotterdam’s most distinctive buildings, the former central post office in the heart of the port city.

The project is in the hands of developer Omnam, which is transforming the listed building into a mixed use project with some 300 new apartments in an adjacent high rise.

The post office, city hall and stock exchange were the only buildings in central Rotterdam to survive the bombardment at the start of World War II.

‘This is no ordinary renovation project,’ Omnam’s Inan Sade told the AD newspaper. ‘I am Jewish myself and I understand the strong attachment to a building the survived World War II. I see it as my own personal mission to give it back to the city.’

The design is in the hands of American architecture bureau ODA and Dutch firm Braaksma en Roos which was involved turning Amsterdam’s former gas works into a cultural and small business centre.  

The ground floor of the former post office, which first opened for business 98 years ago, will house shops and cafes under the vaulted glass roof once the renovation has completed and will be open to the public on two sides.  The rest of the upper floors will become a five star Kimpton hotel with 238 rooms.

Behind the building, Omnam is building a 155 metre high tower which will contain hotel rooms and 305 apartments, around one third of which will be sold to private owners. ‘We first wanted to build a 200 metre tower but we went down a bit to ensure the best balance between having enough apartments and fitting in well with the surroundings,’ Sade told the paper.

Sade has not yet come up with a use for the nuclear shelter under the former post office. It is, he says, particularly difficult to reuse because it only has one entrance and there is no ventilation. It does, he told the AD, still contain the telephone which could be used to phone the monarch of the day. ‘Yes, I tried it,’ he said ‘but the king did not answer.’

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Amsterdam poised to reach 2021 housing target

Amsterdam is likely to meet its target of building 1,670 new homes for the mid market rental sector this year, the city’s housing chief Laurens Ivens has told local councillors.

In the first three months of this year, work has started on building 1,694 homes in the Dutch capital of which 728 will have a rent of between €700 and €1000 a month. Most of the projects are in the southeast of the city, where land is in plentiful supply.

Plans are also in the pipeline to start work on a further 10,838 homes this year, which includes 3,064 mid-market rentals, Ivens said.

Nevertheless, Ivens said, the challenge for the second, third and final quarter of the year is to actually realise the council’s plan to build 7,500 new homes a year. ‘Builders and developers are still coping with coronavirus but the processes are, in the main, running smoothly and lots of companies want to invest in Amsterdam,’ he said.

Ivens wants to speed up the development of mid-market rentals, which are aimed at people who earn too much for social housing but who do not earn enough to buy or rent privately.

City officials have agreed that 40% of each new housing project in the city be social housing, with a rent of below €750 a month, 40% should be mid-market and 20% should either have a rent of over €1,000 or be sold to owner occupiers.

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The Hague tags 2021 the ‘Year of the Roof’

The Hague city authorities have declared 2021 to be the ‘Year of the Roof’, with an ambitious programme to encourage landlords and home owners to make better use of the top of their buildings.

The move, backed by the city council last November, is part of The Hague’s aim to be climate neutral by 2030.

By encouraging people to install solar panels on their roofs, for example, the city will produce more renewable energy and so become a step closer to meeting green energy targets.

In addition, the city is offering subsidies for people who install green roofs, using sedum or other types of plants – and a total of €600,000 in grants is available this year. Green roofs help deal with excess rainwater as well as providing habitats for insects, officials point out.

https://duurzamestad.denhaag.nl/wat-kun-je-doen-op-je-dak/

A similar project in nearby Leiden in 2020 resulted in the placement of 2,875 solar panels and 8,400 square metres of green roofs. The budget for grants was also three times over-subscribed.

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New home sales pick up with price rises of 8.7%

The price of new homes in the Netherlands rose 8.7% in the final quarter of 2020, in line with developments earlier in the year and with existing property prices, national statistics agency CBS said in April.

In total, developers sold 10,744 newly-built homes in the final three months of the year, nearly 54% up on the same period in 2019. This was the first quarter in which more than 10,000 new home were sold since the final three months of 2017, the CBS said.

Developers sold 32,200 new homes throughout the year.

House prices in the Netherlands are rising more quickly than in the European Union as a whole, the CBS said. In the final three months of 2020, house prices rose by an average of 5.7% in the EU as a whole. Luxembourg topped the ranking, with an average increase of 16.7%.

One million homes

Earlier this year developers, construction companies, lobby groups, housing corporations and tenants’ associations in the Netherlands joined forces in an effort to tackle the chronic housing shortage.

The group says one million new homes need to be built in the the Netherlands in the next 10 years to meet demand – a call first made by the Holland Metropole alliance in 2017.

The organisations hope their plans will form the backbone of the next government’s strategy on housing.

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Will the Netherlands bring back the ministry for housing?

The shortage of housing emerged as one of the main themes in the March general election, with parties across the political spectrum calling for a greater role for central government.

In addition, several parties likely to be involved in the next coalition government have called for the establishment of a specialized ministry for housing and planning. Housing currently falls under the home affairs ministry while planning has largely been transferred to local and regional councils.

Developers, investors and local authorities estimate the Netherlands needs one million new homes by 2030 and most parties accepted this figure in their manifestos. However, experts say, this can only be achieved if a minister for housing or spatial planning takes the lead to overcome the bottlenecks in local authority planning procedures.

State control

Putting together a new coalition – which will require at least four parties – will take several months, and housing is likely to be a key issue in the next cabinet’s plans.

Here’s a summary of the positions of the main parties.

The VVD emerged as the biggest party in the March vote. The VVD does not support the re-establishment of a minister for housing, but does support giving the state more control about planning issues.

D66, the Liberal democratic party which is now the second biggest in parliament, explicitly calls for a bigger role for national government in ‘achieving our major ambitions in terms of housing, nature and climate’.

ChristenUnie, the junior party in the outgoing coalition, has calld for a more ‘integrated approach’ to housing issues.

The Labour party (PvdA) wants action to tackle property speculators, and says there should be a minister for housing and spatial planning.

The Christian Democrats (CDA) went as far as to say that there should be ‘less market, more cooperation’ in Dutch government housing policy.

In addition, there is more acceptance among the bigger parties of the need to build in green spaces. D66, for example, explicitly listed a string of potential locations for new housing, including several in the Holland Metropole area.

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Government allocates €266m to build new homes faster

Local authorities are to receive a further €266m in funding to develop 45,000 new homes, as part of the government’s efforts to eradicate the shortage of housing.

The money will be used for 30 specific projects, and is the second tranche of spending from a €1bn fund to boost the housing supply set up in 2019. In total, nearly 96,000 new homes are being partly financed via the fund.

In total, funding was requested for 53 different projects. The successful schemes are based across the country, including Holland Metropole members Eindhoven (District E) and Amsterdam (IJburg), and several in The Hague, such as the ICT Security Campus project.

Seven of the successful schemes are developments around railway stations which, says housing minister Kajsa Ollongren, offer considerable potential. In other projects, former industrial areas are being turned into residential estates.

“It is fantastic to see how everyone is committed to delivering as many homes as possible,’ Ollongren said. ‘More affordable homes are desperately needed to give starters and people with lower incomes more opportunities in the housing market.’ The extra funding, she said,  ‘is a great tool to accelerate construction at locations where the housing shortage is greatest.’

The first tranche of funding, for 27 projects, was awarded last September, also involving a number of Holland Metropole partners in the Amsterdam region, The Hague, Eindhoven, Rotterdam and Utrecht.

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