Welfare state and Poverty in Flanders #5 Housing

Poverty evolution in Flanders

5.     Housing

Just over 84 million persons or 17 % of the EU-27‘s population were at-risk-of-poverty in 2007, while a similar proportion (17 %) of the total EU-27 population suffered from material deprivation. There was a clear overlap between those who were at-risk-poverty and those suffering from, among others, being unable to face unexpected expenses, afford a holiday, keep their home adequately warm, or being able to afford a car.

Miss Homeless Belgium competition 2009

Homelessness and housing deprivation are arguably the most extreme examples of poverty and social exclusion in European society. Poor housing conditions, a lack of basic facilities, availability of amenities (such as an indoor flushing toilet), overcrowding, subjection to noise, pollution and violence are likely to reinforce problems of health, educational attainment, labour prospects and integration. Where long-term difficulties in meeting mortgage and rental payments are evident this can lead to greater demands on social housing, relocation and, in extreme cases, homelessness.

The EU’s social inclusion process uses a relative definition of poverty that was first agreed by the European Council in 1975[1]: ‘… people are said to be living in poverty if their income and resources are so inadequate as to preclude them from having a standard of living considered acceptable in the society in which they live. Because of their poverty they may experience multiple disadvantages through unemployment, low income, poor housing, inadequate health care and barriers to lifelong learning, culture, sport and recreation. They are often excluded and marginalised from participating in activities (economic, social and cultural) that are the norm for other people and their access to fundamental rights may be restricted’.

A face of the homeless in Flanders -BlobServlet

European aim: decent housing for all: homelessness and housing deprivation are some of the most extreme examples of poverty and social exclusion in European society, resulting from a wide range of factors that include a lack of affordable housing, low-paid jobs, unemployment, as well as substance abuse, mental illness or domestic violence.

Poverty was generally seen as a widespread problem in Europe, with respondents perceiving that one in ten people (10 %) in their area lived in extreme poverty and about one in every three people (29 %) in poverty, with a further one in three people at risk of falling into poverty (31 %). The perception of poverty in the local area was twice as high among respondents from the countries that have joined the EU since 2004 than in the former EU-15 Member States (63 % compared with 32 %). However, it should be noted that the perception of poverty within the former EU-15 Member States rose by 12 percentage points between 2002 and 2007. [2]

Een analyse van de Armoede in Vlaanderen door Marcus Ampe - Poverty in Flanders, an analysis by Marcus Ampe

In Flanders home-ownership increased strongly among higher-income categories decreased among low-income households. Very few lone mothers with young children are owner occupiers. Households are considered as overcrowded if the dwelling in which they live does not comprise a minimum number of rooms, established upon the basis of: one room for the household; one room for each couple; one room for each single person aged 18 or more; one room for two single people of the same sex between 12 and 17 years of age; one room for each single person of a different sex between 12 and 17 years of age; and one room for two people under 12 years of age. Overcrowding is a widespread problem in the EU‑27, as reported by 17 % of all households in 2007. However, it was particularly common among the central and eastern Member States that joined the EU since 2004 and, to a lesser extent, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Austria. In Flanders overcrowding can be found mainly at Turkish and Moroccan families and in unemployed habitants of council flats or council houses.

One fifth of the Flemish population in 2009 lived in a house with structural defects roof, windows, doors and walls, with no adequate heating, with a lack of elementary comfort or lack of space. This corresponds to approximately 1.1 one million people. That number clearly decreased in 2008 and 2009 after a rise between 2004 and 2007.

Wijken voor Kunst 2010

Wijken voor Kunst 2010 - Image by marketingfacts via Flickr

Average housing costs increased more for low-income households than for high-income households, leading to a sharp increase in problematic rent-to-income ratios for the former. The housing cost burden is defined as the ratio of housing costs to annual disposable income after adjustment for housing allowances. In the EU‑27, around one in eight persons faced housing costs in excess of 40 % of their income, a proportion that rose to more than one in five in Germany and two in every five in Bulgaria; the lowest proportions were recorded in Cyprus, Malta and Ireland. [3]

That the cost of living can carry weight on the family is also reflected in the fact that a significant group of families are having trouble paying the electricity or gas bill. The number of the households provided by the network administrators of electricity and gas increased after a small decrease in 2007 quite strongly in 2008 and 2009. End 2009 about 72,978 households 50,721 arrangements were made for electricity and gas. Late 2009, 40,341 households got their electricity supplied through a budget meter. End 2009, 4,488 gas budget meters were active. End of 2009 801 points were entirely cut off from electricity access and 2,733 families of gas supply.[4]

In Flanders it appears that especially the private rented sector is problematic. Just over 10% of the Belgian Population their housing cost burden exceeds 40 % of annual disposable income. More and more people do have difficulties to cope with the increase of their rent, electricity and gas price.[5]

More than 330,000 Flemish households have after payment of their costs for housing a budget, which is too low for a humane to have a dignified existence. Four on ten poor families have a house of petty quality. Vulnerable groups seek their refuge to rooms and camp grounds. The offer of social rent houses is insufficient, and not always as accessible for the weakest groups.[6] There are not enough payable reliable houses, 5.7% of the population lives in a rent house of a public body, while the European average amounts to 17%.[7]

Slum in Flanders - Sloppenwijk in Vlaanderen

In Belgium, the proportion of households with two (or more) income earners grew from 42% in 1983 to 52% in 1994 (figure 3). At the same time, the proportion of households with no income from work increased from 16% to 20%. By comparison, over that same period in the UK, the proportion of multiple-income households increased from 54 to 62%, while the number of zero-earners rose from 6 to 19%. [8] Among households without dependent children the incidence of severe housing deprivation was generally lower, although it was twice as high for single person households as it was for households composed of two adults.

Housing deprivation

Already in certain countries, like England, we could find an underclass living in certain areas. Big cities as Antwerp, Brussels and Ghent could not escape this centralization or ghettos of certain people living in old and dilapidated house as well in dwellings owned by local authorities and housing associations, i.e. in social housing.

Kroonstraat and Bleekhofstraat Borgerhout, Antwerp

In Flanders there is a provision on the market for the people who cannot afford housing on the private market. The Flemish Society for Social Living (De Vlaamse Maatschappij voor Sociaal Wonen) (VMSW) makes living social possible. The VMSW sees to make up for the planning of the public housing in Flanders through the timely of the annual executions program. She stimulates supports, accompanies and finances to realize local social living actors to get payable and quality housing projects. She finances or subsidises also social housing projects and their living infrastructures, as roads, sewering and green construction. She provides the Flemish housing loan to private people for the purchase of a social house for sale, the renovation of the owned house, the purchase of a house that must be renovated or a new development. The VMSW guarantees customers contentment over the Flemish house loan that remains adapted to the target group and market evolutions, and she insures the product acquaintance of it.

People that deviate from the accepted standard become often undeserved refused as tenant. It goes here over discrimination on basis of origin, financial situation (men with a replacements income), middle-class state (single people, humans with young children), handicap, sexual character… Just because it happens soften in Flanders people take it as granted. The landlords think that they will come away with it.

In several places in Flanders we still can find caravans and small wooden construction were people try to live in daily. The government  and Riso Flanders tries to guard that the housing for these inhabitants group satisfies at the contemporary minimum standards as for safety and comfort, with preservation of the approachable living facilities and easily accessible social assistance, affordability and the solidary living culture. Therefore the creation of an inhabitant’s network and a clear communication form is formed with the surroundings indispensable work points. Furthermore Riso and Habito want to fix the already formed life communities on this camp ground. With this they recognize that the strong ties under the inhabitants and on solidarity based communities lead until an increased and valued liveability.

Flanders counts 460,000 private rent houses, good for one fifth of the total house market. A large part of the private rent houses is inhabited through vulnerable groups as men with low incomes, single people, single-parent families, unemployed people and foreigners. One on five tenants inhabits a house in bad state. Four on ten tenants spend more than 30% from their income at housings expense. This is more than with owners or social tenants. The number private rent houses systematically take off the last decades. This sees to it that candidate-tenants always find it more difficult to find a suitable house

The Flemish Woonraad (Housing Board) considers the rent subsidy a particular useful policy instrument within the Flemish living policy. Besides the applications territory of the rent subsidy must cover the complete target group of the income weaker private tenants. The income, the living quote or the remaining available income are relevant criteria to fix the need of housing. [9]

Council flats in Flanders

In the social housing market we do find the problem of youngsters not very keen to go to work or having not finished their education. They form the underclass living in social housing, who have low or non-existent work incentives, and whose children, like their parents, suffer from poor educational achievement and low career expectations. They do not bring in enough money to pay their housing, while they create children without awareness that they have to be brought up and educated. In the meantime, because the community has to pay for them the Social Housing companies do not get enough money in to spend to new houses which are really very necessary in Belgium. The other problem is also that within this underclass crime is high, having children without cohabitation (let alone marriage) is the norm and those born into it suffer from serious inequality of opportunity. They also do not take care to keep their environment clean and throw their waste in the neighbourhood which becomes less nice for all the other inhabitants who would like to live nicely. The situation of debris, drug use and criminality gives problem estates. It is the underclass, apparently living permanently on benefit, without much of an onus upon them to do anything, which creates a mood, first of misunderstanding, then resentment to turn into anger. The people living around them at first are discontent with those people who cause resentment by their asocial behaviour. Being confronted themselves with enough hardship they also get deep discontent with the system, among the hardworking poor.

Flemish Brabant Campingliving

Generally see we that material deprivation for the dimensions ‘economic pressure’ and ‘flaw of permanent goods’ the average is lower in Flanders than in Belgium on a whole. Also is the situation more badly for those who live in a household where nobody works: for Belgium not yet half of the group is deprived of the four items of ‘economic pressure’ while for Flanders it concerns 69%. [10]


Perhaps housing tenure has been given insufficient attention in discussions of unemployment, single parenthood and movement in and out of poverty.

In Great Britain in 1995-96 almost half of the inactive were owner-occupiers or lived in private rented accommodation. However, the proportion of inactive owner-occupiers and private tenants who find jobs within a year is relatively high. Half of owner-occupiers who were unemployed in 1994-95 had found jobs within a year, compared with little more than a quarter of social tenants. [11]

Flemish minister of Energy and Living Freya Van the Bossche recognizes the need at high quality and low-energy houses in Flanders. She shares the concerns of Samenlevingsopbouw, Bond Beter Leefmilieu (Federation Better Environment) and Vlaams Overleg Bewonersbelangen.   ‘Poverty, a bad house and priceless energy bills go yet too often together’, Van the Bossche says.[12]

Find also more at:

Werken aan ‘campingwonen’

[2] Eurobarometer survey (number 279)

[3] Combating poverty and social exclusion: a statistical portrait of the European Union 2010, Eurostat

[4] : Vlaamse armoedemonitor, Diensten voor het Algemeen Regeringsbeleid; Studiedienst van de Vlaamse Regering; Jo Noppe, Verantwoordelijke uitgever Josée Lemaître; Maart 2011

[5] See chapter 9 about Consumption

[6] Look at the ciphers of the Flemish strategic Advise organ for living: Vlaamse woonraad

[7] NAPincl 2005-2006, Indicatoren, p. 72.

[8] OECD report of 1995 + Gregg and Wadsworth (1996).

[9] Huursubsidie voor kandidaat-huurders sociale huisvestingsmaatschappijen, Jaarverslag 2010 van de Vlaamse Woonraad

[10]  Armoede onder werkenden in Vlaanderen, Vlaanderen in een Belgische context, Ive Marx, , Gerlinde Verbist, Pieter Vandenbroucke, Kristel Bogaerts, Josefine Vanhille, Centrum voor Sociaal Beleid Herman Deleeck, Universiteit Antwerpen, Eindrapport 12 mei 2009

[11] Welfare, Work and Poverty, Lessons from Recent Reforms in the USA and the UK, John Clark, Norman Dennis, Jay Hein, Richard Pryke, David Smith (Editor) Institute for the Study of Civil Society, London, First published April 2000, p 36

[12] Nood aan kwaliteitsvolle en energiezuinige woningen, Energiearmoede is in de 21ste eeuw onaanvaardbaar. Freya van den Bossche


While a caretaker government that lost last year’s June 13 elections has reduced the deficit and even sent warplanes to join the NATO-led campaign in Libya, the impasse is feeding fears of a looming carve-up of the country and lots of institutions cannot work properly. The poor keep standing in the cold. But most Belgium became phlegm about the politics, though an opinion survey Friday showed two-thirds of Belgians continue to believe the country can survive its fiercest crisis to date — though the proportion was highest in French-speaking Wallonia, at 79 percent, followed by 74 percent in bilingual Brussels and 62 percent in Dutch-speaking Flanders. But most of those voters are not thinking of the poverty in Flanders and are still at ease because they have it so well.

  • Belgium Welfare change to help child poor (bbc.co.uk) could perhaps also look at Britain where 2.8 million, or 22%, of children were living in relative poverty. The Child Poverty Act commits the government to cut this measure of poverty to 10% by 2020. This is defined as children living in homes with an income of 60% less than the median UK income, before housing costs. In chapter 8, about work, I note that the children’s responsibles or guardians have insufficient pay (34 %) to afford good housing, nourishment and education. The proportion of households with no income from work in Flanders 20% opposite the UK 19% may seem not so bad, but they can enjoy a lot more benefits and a free Social Health system.

About Marcus Ampe

Retired dancer, choreographer, choreologist Founder of the Dance impresario office and archive: Danscontact-Dansarchief plus the Association for Bible scholars, the Lifestyle magazines "Stepping Toes" and "From Guestwriters" and creator of the site "Messiah for all". - Gepensioneerd danser, choreograaf, choreoloog. Stichter van Danscontact-Dansarchief plus van de Vereniging voor Bijbelvorsers, de Lifestyle magazines "Stepping Toes" en "From Guestwriters" en maker van de site "Messiah for all".
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8 Responses to Welfare state and Poverty in Flanders #5 Housing

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