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Europe

Ban on squatting divides opinion in the Netherlands

Squatters are no longer tolerated in Amsterdam as a ban on living in unoccupied housing for free came into effect on Friday. Around 200 squats are to be gradually emptied in the Dutch capital.

A squatter painting a mural

There are roughly 1,500 squatters in Amsterdam

A law banning squatting came into force in the Netherlands on Friday, sparking outrage among squatters and councillors who see the practice as a way to fight inflated rents, particularly in Amsterdam.

"There have never been so many empty buildings in and around Amsterdam," Eric Duivenvoorden, a sociologist and former squatter, told Deutsche Welle.

"It's millions of square meters not being used. Now that this threat [of squatters] is no longer there, it's difficult for the council to put pressure on owners to occupy that unused space."

A banner reads your laws not ours in Dutch

"Your laws not ours" - squatters protest the ban in Amsterdam

Break with liberal tradition

A court ruling in 1971, at the height of the housing shortage in the Netherlands, paved the way for anyone to be allowed to squat an unoccupied flat, house or building. Back then, there were around 20,000 squatters in Amsterdam alone.

Today, that number has gone down to roughly 1,500, and the Conservative VVD party, which pushed the ban through along with the Christian Democrats, believes squatting is not the answer to the housing problem in the capital.

"If you see what some of the buildings look like when squatters leave them, they are completely torn apart, it's not about protecting the building," Frank van Dalen, a VVD and Amsterdam council member, told Deutsche Welle.

"Part of the new law is to also transform empty office buildings into student housing and small apartments for first-time buyers.

A house in Amsterdam occupied by squatters

Students can be forced to squat as flats are too expensive in Amsterdam

Up to two years in jail

The new law could land those who keep squatting in prison for a year, or even two years if violence or intimidation is involved. Squatters have been protesting against the move, arguing that affordable housing is very hard to find in the Dutch capital.

"People who were born and raised here, who can't find a house, people on low incomes, who do the dirty jobs in the city also deserve a house, students deserve a house," KM Eleon, who has been squatting for six years, told Deutsche Welle.

The average monthly income in the Netherlands is 1,300 euros, which is also the average price for a 70-square-meter flat in the center of Amsterdam. Eleon has been on a waiting list for social housing for 12 years now and there is no affordable accommodation in sight for him.

Sociologist Duivenvoorden supports that view, saying the problem is that once people can afford a place, they stay put, counting themselves lucky to be able to afford it.

"That's why it's very difficult for newcomers, for people who come from abroad to find a place in Amsterdam, Duivenvoorden told Deutsche Welle.

The City of Amsterdam is planning on gradually evicting squatters from 200 buildings in the capital, but authorities refrained from taking immediate action on Friday. Nationwide, there are up to 1,000 properties occupied by squatters. There have been protests in several cities against the new law in the last few days.

Author: Cintia Taylor (ng)
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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