Housing is a right. Investors like Blackstone en Co to be kept out

14 March 2022

Housing is a right. Investors like Blackstone en Co to be kept out

It was a rather small news item. Investor Blackstone let at least 330 houses in Amsterdam stand empty. All this while we are facing a deep housing crisis and many people cannot find a suitable and affordable home. Blackstone claims that it wants to renovate the houses. That may sound noble but it is not the whole story. The investor is renovating houses in order to rent them out at much higher prices. In the Amsterdam West-Indische quarter, for example, rents went up from €500 to €2500 per month. Houses are a profit model for investors like Blackstone and co. Home seekers are the losers. And so is society as a whole. Blackstone has a trick up its sleeve to avoid paying any profit tax in the Netherlands. Housing prices are pushed up by investors, deepening the housing crisis. A new study by SOMO, commissioned by the SP, shows that Blackstone has no added value. High time to ban Blackstone en co.

Opponents of tackling Blackstone en co often argue that they are relatively insignificant. That is correct, in 2020 Blackstone had 1780 homes in the Netherlands. However, the SOMO study shows that this may quickly change. Their huge assets, nearly 700 billion in Europe alone, could make them a major player very soon. In Spain, Blackstone became the largest investor in one swoop in 2013. Consequences for people with lower incomes in particular have been disastrous. After buying homes, residents were evicted, the homes were refurbished and rented out at much higher prices. In 2019, Blackstone was criticised by the UN for infringing on human rights. Blackstone is said to cause desolation in communities and is partly responsible for creating the global housing crisis.

The SOMO study shows how the financing of housing works and what role Blackstone now plays. Housing is getting more and more interwoven with the financial sector. Houses are used to provide the highest possible return at the lowest possible cost. And within the shortest possible time. Over the last ten years, investors have been buying up more and more homes while the number of social housing units has been falling. According to SOMO, the Netherlands in particular is relatively attractive to large investors because Dutch house prices are rising faster than the European average. Blackstone en co add little value, but mainly remove value. It is the entire group of investors that is pushing up prices.

The current housing crisis is the result of the financialisation of housing. For years, the Netherlands has intentionally lured investors. On a national level, the UN warnings that Blackstone is damaging human rights and deepening the housing crisis have been ignored. The Netherlands must now take much stronger action to stop Blackstone en co. Current measures are not effective enough. Blackstone en co have substantial capital to become a major landlord quickly. What is needed is a broad package of fiscal and legal measures. Both nationally and locally. The obligation for house owners to self-reside is a good step, but still too limited. Let this type of investor pay higher taxes to discourage buying up houses. Tax evasion must be tackled. Needless vacancies and excessive rents can be fined more severely by treating them as economic offences. Compliance is to be more effective. Above all, legal action must be taken to regulate and reduce rents in the free sector. Temporary rental contracts are to be abolished. And the sale of social housing must be stopped. All these measures will ensure that houses will once again be homes rather than commercial goods.

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