Six years: still no house
Right now, all the things I own are stored in three different houses in Amsterdam. Most of them are housed in a storeroom of this couple friend of mine who lives in Ijburg, in the large house they own. Then I have some other stuff in the Westerpark area, at the place of another friend who has also been the caregiver of my cats while I can’t have them with me. He also owns his house. Finally, I have one piece of luggage and a backpack which I carry with me everywhere, with the essentials for everyday life. Currently, I am staying in the area of Museumplein (I know, I know). This other couple friend went on holiday and offered their home for me to plant sit while they’re away. Thank god they are not like most people in Amsterdam who will Airbnb their place at the first opportunity. If they had done that they would be now basically enjoying a free holiday. Airbnb prices here are similar to hotel ones so it is easy to understand why people do it so massively in this city. This also helps explain why, from a market point of view, is it not the first time that I am in the ‘homelessness’ situation in the almost six years I’ve been living over here.
The Amsterdam way
Living in the great A’DAM as a not-wealthy-expat means you becoming an urban nomad – if you want to give it a fancy name. “Nomad” suggests a chosen lifestyle though, and this is not something most of us choose for. We are forced to live in this fashion. If you are a wealthier expat you might be able to acquire your own home. Well, maybe not at current prices but until around two years ago one still could, and some of my friends bought houses then. An urban nomad in its turn is a person who has to move very often from house to house because, simply put, there is no place for them to settle for a longer period of time. Everything that could mean a more permanent shelter is whether prohibitively expensive, whether exclusively aimed at Airbnbs, which obviously makes for a much more profitable business. Urban Nomadism in Amsterdam: not fancy at all.
Even before the boom of Airbnb the market was already adapted to the situation of overcrowdedness. The system has been working as follows: whenever people travel, they rent or sublet their own houses or rooms. Amsterdammers travel very often, and this system is great in that way because, you both get to travel with no housing expenses, and you get to keep your house, to which you return whenever you want. I did this myself as well. When I went backpacking for two and a half months, I sublet my room and that’s how I managed to travel on my small budget. Then, six months after, the owners of the house returned to The Netherlands, the one-year rental contract expired and my roomies and I had to leave.
Before that, I had lived in the Indische Buurt. The landlord had been granted a social house (a house for which he paid a low price compared to market ones) and illegally rented it to us. We had an inspection knocking at our door trying to convince us to denounce the landlord. If we collaborated the organization would protect and arrange us permanent housing in the city as a reward, and we wouldn’t have to worry anymore. We didn’t collaborate for a question of principle. We were aware of the situation since the beginning: if the landlord was to be considered ‘guilty’ of anything, we were objectively just ‘partners-in-crime’. Couldn’t I then apply for social housing as well? you ask. In fact, I tried to but here’s one little detail: the waiting list for one of those is around ten years long. Even though I have been on the list for almost five years now, the waiting time is not shortening. In fact, the last time I checked it I had eleven and a half years waiting time ahead of me. That’s right. ELEVEN AND A HALF YEARS. That’s the moment my family would wonder: oh Ana, why the hell did you insist on studying theater?!. That’s also why I don’t tell them these particulars in spite of my mother enquiring, every now and then, Oh Ana, Why don’t you just find a house, and settle down?. If I’m in a good mood I might make a joke, by giving myself airs and replying: Don’t you see mommy? I am too busy being an urban nomad!. If I had a rough day I might just feel miserable.
The Huurtoeslag & the Huisbewaring
During two years I have lived at the house of a friend of mine who had moved to Berlin. This was the longest time that I have lived in one single house in the city. I had a rental contract and because the total price I paid wasn’t too high, I was even able to get a huurtoeslag, a subsidy the government grants people with lower incomes (I’m a poor artist after all). Those blessed times came to an end when, in face of the rising prices in real estate, my friend decided to sell the house. The huurtoeslag could be our general salvation if it actually worked. The reason why it doesn’t work on 90% of the times is that you are only entitled to this benefit as long as your rental costs don’t exceed a certain amount. The amount in question is, of course, waaaay below market prices.
I have also lived together with my ex-boyfriend, a period of little worry shelter-wise as he was the owner of his house. After that, I shared a place with a girlfriend of mine but since we were in a situation of huisbewaring, eventually the owners came back, and we both had to move out. AGAIN. Huisbewaring is the possibility you’re given if you traveling and you don’t want to lose the house you’re renting. In that case you can legally sublet the place for a maximum period of two years.
Solidarity is everything
This leads me to the present situation. Right now I am staying wherever I’m welcome. And I have been lucky to be welcomed by different friends who live different areas of the city. Advantage: I get to know Amsterdam really well which is useful for my job at Amsterdive. Moreover, I would never have the means to live in the Museumplein borough and I have never expected to actually like to live here. The downside of all this is a more impacting one though: total instability. Emotionally, it’s like a Ferris-wheel ride. It’s not only that we live in an unstable era in terms of work (or flexible, depending on how you look at it). It’s not only that we live in a very competitive city. It’s not only that relationships have been tendentially getting as temporary as housing rental contracts. The whole picture makes me wonder what impact does this have on people’s mental health.
On a personal note
I remember having periods in which I felt like a loser for not having the means to secure a permanent place of my own. The more the people around me bought houses, the smaller I started feeling. The anxiety wheel would start spiraling and a thousand questions would cross my mind in a matter of minutes (brace yourselves): Until when will I have to live in shared spaces? Does this mean I should leave the city I love so much? What if I join the exciting creative scene in Rotterdam? Wouldn’t that be cool? What about all the friends that I have here and the network that I’ve built and my emotional geographies? Is it really how it works, you earn below a certain amount, you’re out? What if Amsterdam is truly becoming a town for yuppies and rich folks, as everyone says it is? Is all this hassle worth it? Why should I have to leave the place that feels like home to me?
I still feel there’s space for me in Amsterdam. It’s not a very rational decision but a gut feeling, I guess. As long as I still feel I belong here, as long as I feel welcome, as long as I feel Amsterdam is unfinished business, I can’t leave. This being said, if you hear/smell/feel the presence of a vacant living space, could you please be so kind to send me some smoke signals, a carrier pigeon, a message in a bottle? Oh. An email might do just as well. Thank you, Dankjewel, Obrigada, Gracias, Merci, Grazie, Mulţumesc, Hvala, Danke schön Tak, Sağol, شكرا جزيل
Thanks for reading me! And, by the way, anybody going through the same struggles at the moment?