To facilitate young potential owners’ access to housing, Hasselt Council has decided, in agreement with a private developer, to reserve flats for the under 32s. The idea is not universally welcomed but is a response to a real problem.
It is a first in Belgium and has already caused some gnashing of teeth. Destined to become the highest tower in Limburg, the Kapertoren, which will be erected not far from Hasselt university campus, has been controversial since the summer. At stake: the 70 homes spread over the tower’s 16 floors will only be accessible to potential tenants or owners aged under 32. This age limit will be stipulated in sales and rental contracts.
By doing this, the district authorities and the property developer hope to meet the very high demand from young people looking for their first home. In the Kapertoren, gross prices vary between 140,000 euros for a studio and 250,000 euros for an apartment. The initiative, which could inspire other districts is not universally welcomed either by property developers, who say it is simply “thinly veiled advertising”, or by associations, who have denounced it as a form of “discrimination”.
In legal terms, age is indeed a prohibited criterion as is gender, sexual orientation and race. That goes for both purchased and rented housing. But the law does make some exceptions. In particular for seniors and intergenerational housing. So, is this a publicity stunt by the developer or real social action? The answer is actually a bit more complex. Indeed, many district councils are looking to keep the young active population within their confines because they are good tax contributors. And since all cities are affected by the urban exodus phenomenon, they need to devise ways of holding on to young people and the middle class, who are increasingly ready to move to the outskirts.
In Belgium, access to housing is a structural problem. On the one hand, cities are drastically lacking subsidised housing. On the other, citizens who want to live in the city do not get enough fiscal support. This is exacerbated by the increasingly difficult financial situation of young households. As housing prices are on the rise, the under 32s can no longer afford to buy, without sufficient initial capital. But the large banks very rarely grant 100% mortgages. Especially if the purchase price is over 275,000 euros.