Table of Contents
Amsterdam, like several other cities in advanced economies, has seen a rapid surge in house prices in recent years. This has done more harm than good to the housing and living conditions of low-income households and persons.
We examine the possible link housing conditions could have to health inequities or inequalities in the Dutch capital city. Plus, we consider ways the situation could be improved for low-income populations.
A Persistent Housing Crisis
The Netherlands is currently in the middle of a serious housing crisis. This is even more pronounced in Amsterdam and other major Randstad cities. There is a severe housing shortage with many people facing homelessness.
House prices are rapidly rising and affordable housing is getting harder to come by. Many first-time home buyers are finding it extra daunting to make the move. Amsterdam has recorded one of the most rapid price rises in Europe causing cost and accessibility issues for both low- and middle-income families.
Researchers revealed that the Netherlands’ capital city recorded annual price hikes of roughly at least 10 percent from 2013 to 2018. Real estate prices jumped by an estimated 20 percent from 2017 to 2018! According to UBS, price appreciation far outstripped income growth.
A forecast has it that “vulnerable groups” could suffer a shortage of up to 15,000 apartments in Amsterdam by 2030.
Multiple factors are to blame for the housing shortage being witnessed in Amsterdam and other Dutch cities. One of these is a growing population, with more people coming into the country for work or study.
It has also become harder to get building permits due to regulations to address the current nitrogen crisis. Stricter lending policies, limited free space, and conversion of properties for Airbnb rentals are some other factors playing a role in the housing crisis.
Socioeconomic Inequalities in Health
Health inequalities based on socioeconomic factors are a global thing. They may be described as disparities in the health statuses of people based on socioeconomic factors, including education, occupation, and income. Put differently, they are differences in health status between or across socioeconomic classes.
In the Netherlands, there was little or no interest in this topic in public health research before 1980. One of the earliest studies (published in 1981) reported health inequalities between Amsterdam neighborhoods. There has since been an increased interest in this topic not only among researchers but also policymakers.
As a part of its effort to fight these inequalities, the government adopted the World Health Organization (WHO) “Health For All by the Year 2000” targets in 1985. However, a 2001 study showed that the problem of socioeconomic inequalities increased over the previous decades instead of decreasing.
Several studies have been commissioned in the Netherlands with a view to developing a robust strategy to fight health inequities. Meetings involving experts and policymakers, including in the area of housing conditions, have been held for possibly useful policy and intervention recommendations.
How Housing Conditions Affect Health
Researchers have well-established relationships between housing conditions and health. Public health officials have for a long time given special attention to people’s living conditions. For example, they advocate good sanitation and proper ventilation, among others, due to how they can support health.
There is enough evidence to show that poor housing is a major public health challenge. It plays a role in a variety of health problems, including infectious diseases, poor development, respiratory conditions, cardiovascular diseases, and mental disorders.
Homelessness and other situations arising from the housing shortage in Amsterdam could leave people exposed to diseases. They can make low-income people vulnerable to unsafe drinking water, waste products, vectors, and overcrowding. All these can promote the spread of infections.
Living in a cold or damp environment or poor housing can increase a person’s risk of respiratory diseases, such as asthma. Lead exposure is another housing-related health concern that can not only affect physical but also mental health.
Researchers have also found that lower socioeconomic status and neighborhood-level deprivation are linked to fair to poor health (self-rated). Several studies show that stressors that people are exposed to in deprived areas seem to promote poor health outcomes.
A 2022 paper in the International Journal of Housing Policy revealed a relationship between housing unaffordability and poorer mental health conditions.
Helping the Low-Income Populations
While multiple actors are involved in Amsterdam’s housing crisis, the government must lead the way in finding a solution. This is because, for instance, housing corporations do not feel it’s their duty to tackle health inequalities. The companies could provide better living conditions, but what if they are not affordable for low-income populations?
The government can aid the building of more homes to help deal with these health inequities. But this won’t be entirely easy with limited free space and while the nitrogen crisis persists.
Perhaps, one of the best ways government can assist is by offering tax relief for first-time buyers. This would help to cushion the effect of costs.
Experts have also proposed a shift to more affordable, smaller types of houses that makes better use of space. Examples of these include tiny homes (and offices).
It should be noted, however, that reducing socioeconomic inequalities in health is a key priority of several public health agencies in the Netherlands. The government has shown a preference for a research-centered approach to deal with the problem. For example, a government advisory committee put together a strategy that aimed to cut socioeconomic inequalities in healthy life expectancy from 12 to nine years by 2020.
Recently, Amsterdam revealed a plan that would promote affordable housing and relieve lower-income households. This would hopefully lead to the building of around 7,500 apartments plus another 2,500 temporary dwellings every year.