Where’s the limit to Eindhoven’s growth?

TU/e recently announced its ambition to grow substantially: from 13,000 to 21,000 students and from 3,600 to 6,400 full-time jobs. Businesses in the region are also growing. But where will all those people live? Can construction in Eindhoven keep up or will these developments detract from our quality of life? Cursor spoke about this to Mieke Verhees, alderperson for housing, districts, space and services.

photo Gemeente Eindhoven

Housing in the region being under pressure hardly counts as news these days, but it recently emerged that the Eindhoven housing market is cooling off much slower than in other big cities in the Netherlands. Out of the ten biggest municipalities in the country, Eindhoven’s number of inhabitants increased the most last year. For every one hundred homes there are 109 people looking. “As a starter, it’s hard to buy a house,” realtor Rieks van den Berg said on national radio podcast 5 Dagen.

That local politicians share these concerns became apparent during the Eindhoven municipal council meeting of 20 December. On behalf of left-of-center political parties GroenLinks, Volt and PvdA, Rutger Rauws presented a motion to adapt the student housing covenant, which aims to improve the balance between supply and demand on the housing market by 2028. To this end, the municipality and representatives of the construction sector agreed to build 2,840 affordable homes. But as the new growth ambitions are likely to lead to a further increase of the shortages, Rauws suggested adjusting the covenant to the expected growth figures.

You gave a positive response at the time. So when will this adjustment take place?

“The covenant is adjusted periodically by default,” says Verhees. “It’s good to lay down agreements with educational institutions and housing corporations in a covenant, but it’s also necessary to integrate the need for small residential units into our housing program. We’ll soon convene to talk about this, but do keep in mind there are also external actors at play. Minister of Education Robbert Dijkgraaf recently requested the recruitment of international students to be halted, pending a definitive plan. If he forbids recruitment altogether, this will put both TU/e and ourselves in a different situation. So I want to wait for that definitive plan before adjusting the covenant.”

TU/e has a growth ambition, but the municipality needs to keep everyone’s interests in mind. This creates a certain dynamic

Mieke Verhees
Alderman for housing, districts, space and services
Can ASML move part of its business?

TU/e also aims to maximize the stay rate, which would result not only in an influx of students (including international ones) but also in the possibility of many of them staying after graduating. Which, in turn, would mean they need an alternative for their student accommodations. With things being tight already, how will you solve this?

“We have a permanent student housing steering group. Let me begin by saying we are thrilled with all of those students, both Dutch and international, making their way to Eindhoven. We are dealing with an aging population. The students make the city younger, more lively and more future-oriented, and they obviously also contribute to its economic growth. But there has to be space. TU/e has a growth ambition, but the municipality needs to keep everyone’s interests in mind. This creates a certain dynamic.”

Shouldn’t ASML and TU/e take some of the responsibility? They can’t be expected to build houses themselves, but they are contributing to the shortages by growing so fast and attracting so many new people to the region.

“If ASML or TU/e want to grow, they will. That’s out of my hands; there’s only so much influence I have when it comes to growth.”

What would you say about branching off part of ASML to Twente? There’s more space there, more accommodations. They would certainly welcome the employment opportunities and they already have a university of technology there.

“Yes, but moving or setting up a branch is not that simple. You’re always dependent on the ecosystem as well. And that’s difficult to take with you.”

“Your question is also our question: can a sufficient number of extra homes be constructed to support this growth and maintain our quality of life?

“I can’t answer that right now. As a municipality we are working on a development perspective, in the context of which we are elaborating various growth scenarios. It’s not only a challenge for the city of Eindhoven, but for the entire Eindhoven Metropolitan Region. And don’t forget internationals care less about distances because they are used to travelling anyway.”

I can have construction start tomorrow, but then you’ll end up with a city full of expensive homes where nobody can or wants to live

Mieke Verhees
Alderman for housing, districts, space and services
Broad prosperity

The alderperson also indicates “taking into account broad prosperity (a political term that’s used to denote a broader concept than GNP, ed.), one of the focus areas in the administrative agreement on higher education. What implications does the growth have for healthcare, education, facilities and social cohesion? We even assigned a special city officer to this theme.”

Be that as it may, housing arguably is a precondition for this broad prosperity. How will you use the influence you have in this respect?

“I’m dependent on several parties other than the municipality and my influence is limited. But where I can make a difference, I try to do so by streamlining processes and establishing clear frameworks to enable developers to build faster. We will also introduce a package of measures to keep the construction of homes going as much as possible, in spite of the difficult market.”

“Minister for Housing and Spatial Planning Hugo de Jonge is also trying to speed up things, but the average construction project takes ten years (!) and most of this time is spent on the preparatory phase. The actual construction can be done in one or two years, especially when using innovative building methods. But the fact remains that construction will always lag behind. I can have construction start tomorrow, but then you’ll end up with a city full of expensive homes where nobody can or wants to live. I remain committed to affordability.”

Sense of perspective

The alderperson doesn’t want to get sucked into the type of polarizing discussion that we often see when it comes to this topic. “We are living in this city together and we need to share the available space together. We are doing everything we can in this regard. We are constructing new homes and temporary residences, and exploring how existing spaces can be used. The landlady regulation we recently came up with illustrates this.”

“In addition, housing corporations are working on more efficient use of existing homes, for example by home-sharing. And it would be good if senior citizens considered moving to a smaller home so families can move into the big ones.”

But what about senior citizens that don’t want to move because they’ve lived in the same home for ages, which means they pay very little rent per month and would start paying a lot more after moving? Financial motivations seem to be getting in the way there.

“Sure, that’s one of the issues we’re discussing. People moving to a more suitable residence creates space for starters and students, so we are looking into helping senior citizens do just that. In times of crisis you have to consider all options, including the unorthodox ones. We are also talking to the G4 – the four biggest cities in the Netherlands – about how other cities are dealing with things. I see that many of them are struggling more than we do. This gives us a sense of perspective, as well as an impetus to take timely action to avoid things getting as bad here.”

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