10 years of ineffective discriminatory policy
Local governments are allowed to exclude unemployed people from rental housing in problem neighbourhoods. Now that governments are allowed to screen for past criminal and disorderly behaviour, it’s time to reconsider ten years of discriminatory policy.
Yesterday the Dutch House of Representatives voted for a proposal to extend the so-called Rotterdam Law (officially: Special Measures for Urban Problems; in Dutch: Wet bijzondere maatregelen grootstedelijke problematiek). This national law, implemented in 2006, allows local governments to exclude prospective residents from rental housing in appointed neighbourhoods or streets. Rotterdam earmarked several neighbourhoods ten years ago; Nijmegen and Capelle aan den IIssel earmarked several areas more recently. In this way, unemployed people are not eligible for public and private rental housing in problem neighbourhoods. (See also this post and this article I wrote about the Rotterdam Law.)
The extension involves a behavioural requirement, in addition to the income requirement (I wrote about this plan, which has had different forms, here and here). Local governments are now allowed to exclude prospective renters who have caused nuisance or committed crimes in the past.
There are many principled and practical objections to screening prospective renters for disorderly and criminal behaviour. Most problematic is that renters can be excluded based on police records, without conviction for the alleged offence by a judge. For this and other reasons, the Council of State, which advises the government on legislation, advised the minister for Housing to withdraw the proposal. But the minister ignored that advice. During the plenary debate in the House last week, it appeared that the House of Representatives (except the Socialist Party) supports a behavioural requirement.
Although I am critical about implementing a behavioural requirement for prospective renters, it would also offer an opportunity to scrap the income requirement. Rightly so, the Social-Liberals (D66) and the Labour Party (PvdA) last week asked the minister whether the income requirement would still be needed, if local governments can screen directly for problematic behaviour.
On an aggregate level there may well be a correlation between the share of unemployed people in a neighbourhood and the level of crime and nuisance in that neighbourhood, but excluding all unemployed people from housing is discriminatory and stigmatizing. Moreover, an evaluative study of 10 years of income requirement in Rotterdam, carried out by the University of Amsterdam, shows no positive effects on liveability and safety in the appointed neighbourhoods.
It is indefensible that the minister for Housing now claims that the income requirement is effective because, and I quote the minister in last week’s debate, neighbourhoods now include more people “who go to work at 7:30 in the morning with their lunchbox on the back of their bike.” What is the value of a policy evaluation, if the minister changes the policy goal as soon as it appears that a policy is not effective?
As I see it, the evaluation offers the minister an opportunity to revoke an ineffective and discriminatory policy based on new insights. Isn’t that what evidence-based policy is about? After ten years of ineffective discriminatory policy, it’s about time to scrap the income requirement.