It has already been a month since a third major protest was held at the Malieveld. After the agricultural sector, the construction sector now calls for attention, too. Although the nitrogen problem has been known for a while, farmers and construction companies feel abandoned by politicians because they lack help with this inevitable change. And it is not only farmers and construction companies that feel the blow. In the short term, the impact of restrictions will also be felt across the housing market.
It fits the image of a housing policy that – in recent years – has sometimes caused more problems than it has solved. For years, several government agencies and private sector parties have worked at cross-purposes, insufficiently advancing towards a common goal together. With the current, favorable economic tailwinds, the time has come to jointly take targeted action – from national and local government to mortgage lender – and tackle the problems in the housing market.
The situation of Kees illustrates the state of today’s housing market. In 2005, Kees wanted to buy his first house in the city but decided to rent a place with his girlfriend instead, because purchasing a home turned out to be too expensive. Now, 14 years later, they are a young family with a middle income, and they still can’t afford to buy their own home due to rising house prices and the housing market shortage.
Every day, we read another great example of the upended housing market. A €1.5 million, simple terraced house in southern Amsterdam was sold within a week. For the first time, the interest for a rate fixation period of 30 years drops below 2%. One out of ten first-time homeowners now opt for ‘interest-only’ and prefer lowering their monthly costs by a few hundred euros over accruing, paying off, or benefiting from mortgage interest deduction. Or, various mortgage lenders decide to deduct credit spread for ‘interest-only,’ 12 months after the start of a major campaign aiming to encourage action on interest-only mortgages. For consumers, it’s all difficult to understand.
Fortunately, it was time for the 2019 opening of Parliament. There was an ambitious section on the housing policy for the coming year, in which the government tries to make up lost ground with a much-needed new set of plans. The proposed measures – from encouraging housing cooperatives, constructing temporary houses, and adjusting the transfer tax to setting up a separate building fund for the local preparation of construction sites – seem to make sense in terms of content. These plans are necessary to help people like Kees get their dream house in the long term.
However, it is striking that within the same government, plans don’t seem to have been aligned. For example, the Ministry of Agriculture has not taken action on the nitrogen crisis, which currently impedes 18,000 construction projects. And due to the new guidelines set by the Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning, and the Environment, newly built houses will be 15% more expensive, while the average price of new houses is often too high already for less privileged home seekers.
If this trend continues, the consumer won’t stop footing the bill any time soon. This is also evident from the accelerated rise in the average mortgage loan (+3.4% compared to Q2, 2019) and the first-time homeowner’s average age compared to the previous quarter (+5 months, 31.8 years old – source: Kadaster). Therefore, people like Kees will have to keep their patience for a while.
In my opinion, better cooperation is essential to really tackle the issues in the housing market – cooperation between various government agencies, but also with market parties such as mortgage lenders. Cooperation that’s aimed at a solid long-term plan, which also provides short-term help to groups that struggle with getting help – and which includes smart solutions for financing housing and encouraging innovation in construction to achieve more sustainable and faster construction.
As Remkes wrote in his report: “Not everything is possible.” But I’m convinced that we can make the housing market a lot more accessible again – especially to people like Kees – if everyone in the sector cooperates well, if targeted choices are made, and if the policy is aligned.
Bas de Jong