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Tuesday, 9 March 2021
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Home Columns Lifestyle Alternative spaces: Housing crisis and squatting in Utrecht

Alternative spaces: Housing crisis and squatting in Utrecht

Most of the big cities in the Netherlands such as Amsterdam and Utrecht are dealing with a lack of housing to accommodate their population. International students and expats desperately seek shared rooms and small containers which are still quite expensive. To examine the severity of this crisis, it is enough to make a listing of a small room on one of the Facebook groups dedicated to finding accommodation in the Dutch cities. If the rent of your offered place does not exceed 500/600 Euros per month, you will get a crazy number of messages from people who are willing to take over the room, unconditionally, even for only a month.

Squatting in the Netherlands

In response to the abovementioned crisis, some people attempt to occupying empty buildings and turning them into their houses, which is called squatting. Squatting transforms the function of a building and turns an unused, empty building into a house. Well, it might not be an ideal house for everyone, but left-wing activist squatters believe that is necessary to oppose capitalistic values prevailing in big cities. Eliminating still-livable buildings from the housing market increases the demand for housing and keeps the rental rates as high as possible. Squatters try to offer a solution for this unfairness by taking over the unused places and turning them into communal residencies.

Squatting in Dutch cities has been going on for decades until the 1st of October 2010, in which the Dutch law prohibited the act as illegal conduct. In Utrecht, the most famous squat was ACU on Voorstraat, occupied from 1978 until 1993. Other successful squats have occurred on top of the Albert Heijn on Voorstraat and behind the central station. These occupations do not last for a long time anymore as the Dutch government is evicting the buildings or rebuilding and renovating them to a new function.

Photo by Martin Woortman on Unsplash.com

Anti-squats

The idea of illegally occupying a building is controversial. Activists believe that is necessary to both avoid homelessness and warn the capitalist mindset to care for people in need. However, that creates troubles for the government and the municipal authorities as they can not keep a track of the people living in the city. Moreover, it might lead to vandalism and demolition of the building which might still have some potentials for renovation. As a result, anti-squatting is offered to reduce the squats. Anti-squatting is basically legal squatting: the act of allocating empty buildings to the applicants, this time legally and under supervision. These buildings are mostly vacant industrial buildings, schools, or hospitals. The owners of such properties prefer to rent them to the low-income populations in return for a small amount of money as service fees and utility expenses. This interaction benefits both sides, the owners, and the occupants. However, it does not resolve the housing crisis in the Netherlands.

Challenges of living in an anti-squat

Living in an anti-squat seem intriguing. However, you might consider it is not always the easy to do so. A few challenges of this lifestyle from my view-point would be:

  • Getting an anti-squat is not very easy. They usually have very long waiting lists.
  • The buildings are usually not residential, and are adjusted. This might be a bit inconvenient for some people.
  • The buildings are old and there might be problems with facilities such as heat and warm water. You might need to get handy in fixing these issues.
  • It is temporary and you need to be ready to leave at any time. They will give you a notice two – four weeks before and that is it. Therefore, if you are looking for stability then this is not for you.

Despite all these difficulties, living in an anti-squat might be an exciting adventure for some people. You will get to see new people around every now and then. You might make good friends while you move regularly and live with different people. And eventually, you will save a lot of money if you keep doing it for a while.

For a more in-detail assessment of anti-squat living, have a look at: All you need to know about anti-squatting in the Netherlands (aka antikraak).

Shabnam Shirzadi
Shabnam Shirzadi
Shabnam Shirzadi is a dramatic writer and researcher based in Amsterdam. She has currently graduated in Theatre Studies from the University of Amsterdam. As a writer, she had experienced with different forms of integrating fact and fiction in her previous works to create an alternate history in our imaginations. Currently, museums, castles, and remnants of old architecture and civilization inspire her. At the same time, she tries to find her way in mythology, fiction, and drama by reading and writing about them. For her, writing is the only vehicle through which she can travel in times and spaces.

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