By the end of 2013, Brussels counted 39,369 social housing units, or 10% of the total number of accommodations…
That means that fewer than one in ten housing units in Brussels is subsidized and social: a particularly weak percentage that cannot satisfy the public housing demand in the region. For the same year, there were 44,332 social housing applications filed, a record. What’s more, this figure only counts households currently enrolled on waiting lists, not the total number of households that qualify for housing subsidies according to their income levels. Currently, renters wait for a minimum of 10 years before being granted access to public housing. The wait is even longer for large families. This underscores the urgency with which the number social housing units in Brussels must increase, either by construction or renovation!
Ten years ago, the construction of new social housing projects had ground nearly to a halt. Between 2000 and 2009, only 338 new housing projects sprouted up. In an attempt to counteract this “inertia,” in 2005, under the leadership of Charles Piqué (then President of the Brussels Region), a Regional Housing Plan (Plan regional de logement) was adopted. It provided for the construction of 5,000 new rental units over five years, including 3,500 for low-income families and 1,500 for middle-income families. In 2014, another policy was adopted. This time, with Rudi Vervoort’s as President, a Housing Alliance (Alliance Habitat) was established. Like the Housing Plan, the Alliance forecasted the creation an additional 4,000 public housing units, including 3,000 new units. These figures do not reveal, however, the extent of difficulties facing social housing construction in Brussels. In fact, advocates and families are still waiting for the arrival of these additional units, which number in the thousands. Between 2010 and 2014, the situation improved only slightly. 1,013 new units were added to the current public housing stock. But these numbers are still well below targets set by Brussels policy makers.
It’s also important to keep in mind that existing housing units must meet current livability standards. Large numbers of today’s units are outdated, in poor repair and would normally be slated for significant renovations. Due in large part to years of poor maintenance, there are no new residents replacing those moving out. By the end of 2013, 2,275 public housing units in Brussels were empty and will not see new renters. Significant funds have been set aside by the Brussels Region to pay for renovations, 506 million euros in all for quadrennial programs between 2010-2017. But renovations proceed at a snail’s pace. Regional funding programs have not produced immediate effects. Renovations actually span several years, from proposal to their completion.
Finally, Brussels’ 33 public landlords (Societés Immobilière Sociqles et Publiques, SISP) are currently undergoing important changes. By March 2015, after mergers, only 15 will remain. This reform should allow for more efficiency and better management.