‘Building for the future’
How do our tenants want to live, now and in the future? And have we got the houses for them? Nijkerk Housing Association saw a mismatch looming and for that reason tasked Heijmans with building 28 of its ONE homes. Director and Executive Board member Peter Toonen: ‘Our tenants’ housing needs are changing. And that’s something we’re keen to home in on’.
February 19, 2018
The fact that new groups of prospective tenants were getting in touch with his housing association prompted Peter Toonen, who has been Director and Executive Board member of Nijkerk Housing Association (WSN) for two-and-a-half years now, to take action. Innovation was required in order to be able to provide these groups with suitable, affordable housing. And this at a time when the Government is massively curtailing housing associations’ freedom of movement…
135 Heijmans ONE homes in the NetherlandsTemporary rental homes for various target groups
‘Our motto is: WSN is always nearby. We’re approachable to our tenants and other partners, and what’s more, you quickly get to know one another personally in Nijkerk’, says Peter. ‘If our tenants change or get another issue, then we have to be able to facilitate their needs. We need to adapt if we’re to stay nearby.’
And Nijkerk must not grow to become a major city; the local authority is definitely noticing something of the pressure on the housing market. Peter: ‘We’re getting hundreds of responses to properties that are becoming available; 400 people sign up for every new-build home. Obviously that’s also down to the good price-quality ratio, but demand is growing anyway’.
In addition to this, Peter was seeing an increasing number of groups fall through the cracks: young people and divorcees, for instance. Talks on flexible, temporary accommodation in Nijkerk didn’t get under way until the arrival of the first refugees from the Middle East. ‘We were able to accommodate the families in our existing stock, such as converted office blocks and single-family dwellings. But there was nothing for the single young men and women that came along’, explains Peter.
WSN was hardly in a position to help young people who were looking to live independently after a stay in a healthcare institution either. There weren’t many of them, but these cases were poignant, says the housing association director. ‘It’s hard anyway for young people up to the age of 25 to find a place to live, as they’re not yet earning enough or are in insecure jobs. Add to that the fact that they haven’t been on the waiting list for very long and aren’t meeting the criteria for urgent cases.’
Men and women who are divorced/separated constitute another category that Peter and his colleagues are seeing with a greater degree of frequency. ‘Woeful situations. These people are often looking for a place to live temporarily, until they’ve got their lives back in order. It’s often the case that the only options are to take a room or stay with family or friends. These groups deserve good-quality housing too!’
The long-standing partnership between WSN and Heijmans meant that Peter was already familiar with the Heijmans ONE. These seemed to the director to be an entirely logical solution, and he managed to get the local authority enthusiastic about these relocatable homes. Peter is rather taken with the design of the ONE: ‘The place where they’re being sited is surrounded by modern architecture. A church, office block and plenty of schools. The ONEs look good and fit in perfectly. From an architectural and urban planning perspective, they’re a good match’.
Peter really likes the design, which resembles that of a fully fledged house but smaller: ‘Standard of living is also extremely important for people seeking a temporary place to live. The ONEs look spacious due to their height and are nice and light. They look cool, and they also come in a deluxe version, fitted with vinyl floors, window coverings and other upholstery. You only need to stick in a bed and three-piece suite and off you go’.
The fact that nowadays people deem usage and convenience important is another reason to opt for the ONEs. Peter: ‘Houses no longer need to offer absolutely everything. A couple of minutes by bike will take our tenants into the town centre, where they’ll find all the amenities they need’.
At Spoorkamp, the 28 ONEs will form a small neighbourhood ‘with a wonderfully diverse array of residents’ for 10 years. Peter has agreed with the local authority that the ONEs can then be relocated. In principle, the flexible properties have a depreciation period of 20 years.
‘Obviously I’m really keen to hear about the users’ initial experiences’, says Peter. ‘And what we need to do in terms of maintenance. This is an experiment. If it goes well, then I’d like to see some more installed. I’m sure there are enough spots in Nijkerk where ONEs would fit in. That way, we’ll be building a future-proof supply.’
He considers it self-evident that WSN is setting a good example. ‘As a housing association you can sound the alarm and show what’s required in order to provide suitable, affordable housing now and in the future. This is a good first step.’
Call for action
The enthusiastic director is keen to take the next steps, which is why he has a message for the construction sector: ‘Where are all the other types of property? Why are so many single-family properties being built? We’re faced with some huge tasks: an ageing population and the need to make things more sustainable.
In 20 years’ time half the population will be over 50, so where are the neighbourhoods full of properties that will last a lifetime? The issue of the ageing population is getting more serious and I’m genuinely concerned about it. The sector is overly traditional - put people centre stage rather than the product’.
Peter sees the role that housing associations and local authorities can play in this regard: ‘Obviously we have to be asking the right questions of the market, and things will go a lot better if we’re involved in making plans in a timely fashion. That will take extra time, but it’s something we have to do.
I don’t want to turn a blind eye to this, as that would make me remiss in my duties. As a housing association you’ve got a moral obligation to keep innovating in a region where there’s no shrinkage and pressure on the housing market remains high. And I’d like to invite developers and construction firms to join me on that journey’.