Airbnb is getting blamed for Amsterdam’s housing crisis. So the city council is going to war against Airbnb

Canal houses in Amsterdam. Image: Getty.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: a major European City in the midst of a housing crisis has started to crack down on one of the quintessential brands in the ‘gig economy’. We heard this story back in September, when London stripped Uber of their operating license. This time, however, it’s Amsterdam and Airbnb’s turn to pass the buck.

Like London, Amsterdam is struggling with housing. A study published by the University of Amsterdam in 2016 found that, over a 12 month period, house prices increased by 0.42 per cent whenever the density of Airbnb’s in a square kilometre radius increased. Couple that with a low number of allocated building permits, a lack of high-rise buildings and house prices rising to pre-2008 levels, and you have a market whose supply won’t meet demand until at least late 2019. The national student union LSVb has also estimated that Amsterdam faces the largest shortage of student housing in The Netherlands.

But it’s not just the effect on rent that has driven the city to take action against the firm. Airbnb is one of the major players in the Dutch accommodation scene, accounting for roughly 12 per cent of all overnight bookings, and a wave of sublets.

Nearly 5,000 homes in Amsterdam are permanently rented out on the house sharing site, which locks these homes out of the housing market. The estimated number of illegal sublets account for around half of the total number of Amsterdam homes listed on Airbnb.

City Alderpersons (elected councillors) such as Laurens Ivens believe that ‘Cottage Smokers,’ or ‘Pawnbrokers’ – real estate speculators who buy houses on a large scale and then rent them out to tourists – are behind a number of Airbnb properties. This practice is illegal in the Netherlands, as is renting out more than 40 per cent of your home. What’s more, the Dutch financial firm Rabobank has argued that speculators who buy property simply to rent it out disrupt the market and inflate prices, thereby increasing the risk of a housing market bubble.

The city has often struggled to gather sufficient data on these matters, however. Airbnb only agreed to actively check on whether its host sites are compliant with the law a little over a year ago.

Landlords are obliged by municipal law to report their listings. At the moment, though, the city estimates that it spends around €4m a year on policing casual holiday rentals, while also collecting online information through ‘data scraping’ to discover whether hosts are breaking the current rules.

The current law also allows the city to present fines of up to €6,000 to those found to be breaking these rules; last year, over €4.2m in fines were collected for housing fraud, the majority because of this particular violation. The city has also banned families consisting of more than four people from renting out their home.


The city took further action in January, when it announced plans to limit rental periods to just 30 days a year starting in 2019, down from the 60 imposed in December 2016. The move was, naturally, condemned by Airbnb’s policy manager, who described the move as “legally untenable”. The firm has yet to take any legal action, however.

Next year will also see new B&B owners required to apply for a permit from the municipality, which reserves the right to refuse licences in busy areas such as the growing financial district Zuidas. 

Several days later, Amsterdam went even further and joined eight other European cities – including Barcelona, Vienna, Paris, and Brussels – in writing a letter to the European Commission, demanding new rules for holiday rental periods. The cities also noted their desire for platforms such as Airbnb and Booking.com to share data with regulators, whilst also installing ‘quality rules’ to prevent host anonymity.

In spite of this, Airbnb remains popular with tourists, with record overnight stays recorded in 2017. Amsterdam accounted for around 81 per cent of the 2.6m bookings made in The Netherlands, according to Statista. The French data bureau also found that, on average, traditional hotel accommodation in Amsterdam is €11 cheaper per night than an Airbnb booking.

Mid March saw The Netherlands go to the polls to elect new municipal councils (think UK city council elections, but with a better devolution package). The Dutch Labour Party (PvdA) campaigned on a total ban on Airbnb in Amsterdam, a move shared by the Socialist Party (SP) and the Party for the Animals (PvdD). The liberal parties of D66 and the VVD, meanwhile, were less enthusiastic about a ban, but nonetheless support the current restrictions, as well as a further examination of Airbnb’s practices.

The VVD (who lead the current government) recently filed a motion in the Dutch House of Representatives to label housing fraud as an ‘economic crime,’ which does suggest an increasingly hard line from them on these matters. This also comes after one of their parliamentarians, Wybren van Haga, was accused of illegally leasing buildings.

The municipal election’s largest party – GroenLinks (Green Left) – has not called for a ban. But it is in favour of increasing sanctions on those violating the 30-day period. However, such is the nature of Dutch politics that no party is large enough to govern without a coalition. It is increasingly likely that the new coalition will be comprised of GroenLinks, D66, PdvA, and the Socialist Party. Judging by their manifestos, it might be time for Airbnb to start looking for new accommodation.

 
 
 
 

How US planners experimented with “the iron hand of power” over colonial Manila

Manila in ruins, 1945. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

In 1904, Manila must have appeared to its new overlords a despairing prospect. Racked with poverty and disease, it was still recovering from years of war, epidemic and a fire that had left 8,000 homeless.

For architect Daniel Burnham, it was an opportunity to put to work the radical ideas he had dreamed of in America.

He was among those asking how America’s unprecedented wealth at the turn of the century could be reconciled with the lives of the country’s poorest. Like many, he admired the ideas of harmonised city-planning articulated in Edward Bellamy’s bestselling science-fiction Looking Backward (1888).

At the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Burnham constructed the “White City”. Built across 686 acres of parkland, boulevards, gardens and neoclassical structures rendered a spray-painted plaster vision of the future – all laid out to one comprehensive plan.

It was impressive – but implementing grand designs where people actually lived meant laborious negotiations with citizens, businessmen and politicians.

Instead, opportunity lay in America’s new overseas territories. As Daniel Immerwahr describes in How to Hide an Empire: A Short History of the Greater United States, “They functioned as laboratories, spaces for bold experimentation where ideas could be tried with practically no resistance, oversight, or consequences.”

An architect’s dream

The US had gone to war with Spain in 1898, taking advantage of an empire-wide insurrection. It ended up controlling the entire Philippines, along with Guam and Puerto Rico.

As a “territory”, the Philippines existed outside the protections of the constitution. Congress could impose any law, proclaimed the attorney general in 1901, “without asking the consent of the inhabitants, even against their consent and against their protest, as it has frequently done.”

Which is how Burnham, upon invitation by the Philippine’s new rulers, came to wield what the Architectural Record called “the iron hand of power” over Manila.

 Burnham’s plan for Manila. Click to expand.

Where Burnham’s Chicago plan was complex, took years and entailed collaboration with hundreds of citizens, Burnham spent six months on the Manila plan, and just six weeks in the Philippines. And with no voters to persuade, there seemed little reason to register Filipino input in his designs.

In 1905 Burnham submitted his Report on Improvement of Manila. It described filling the toxic moat of the Spanish fortress Intramuros and developing a rectangular street system modelled on Washington D.C., with diagonal arteries which even Chicago lacked.


Central to his plan was the city’s beautification through monumental buildings, waterfront improvements, and parks – “wholesome resorts” to “give proper means of recreation to every quarter of the city”

Burnham charged William E. Parsons as the omnipotent “Consultant Architect” to interpret his plan, who relished its authority over all public building as an “architect’s dream”. When concerned with the extent of his purview, he also chose to standardise a number of public buildings.

“I doubt if this method would bear fruit in our own city improvement plans, in which everything depends on slow moving legislative bodies,” reported the Architectural Record’s correspondent.

Despite Burnham’s colonial sentiments his biographer concluded his plan was “remarkable in its simplicity and its cognizance of Philippine conditions and traditions.”

His plans did not shy from asserting the colonial government’s authority, however. The Luneta, a favourite park, was to become the nuclei of government. The city’s avenues would converge there, for “every section of the Capitol City should look with deference toward the symbol of the Nation’s power.”

Unusual monumental possibilities

Burnham also worked on a summer palace for US administrators at Baguio, 150 miles north in the mountains. On land inhabited by Igorot people, Burnham saw an opening “to formulate my plans untrammelled by any but natural conditions”.

Baguio’s “unusual monumental possibilities” were facilitated by a road whose construction employed thousands, risking death from disease and falling off cliffs. Civic buildings would “dominate everything in sight” and a golf course would rival those of Scotland.

“Stingy towards the people and lavish towards itself,” griped La Vanguardia, the government “has no scruples nor remorse about wasting money which is not its own.”

As enthusiasm for US empire soured in the States, local power was relinquished to Filipinos. Parsons resigned in protest in 1914. He was replaced by Manila-born Juan Arellano, whose rebuke to imperialists was the mighty, neoclassical Legislative Building which hosted the elected Philippine Legislature. Arellano upheld Burnham’s plan, producing a beautified city bearing resemblance to Burnham’s White City.

But the Legislative Building, along with Burnham’s great edifices and almost everything else in Manila, was levelled as US troops recaptured it in 1945, this time ousting the Japanese in a brutal battle. “Block after bloody block was slowly mashed into an unrecognizable pulp”, recorded the 37th Infantry Division as they exercised their own “iron hand” over Manila.

American artillery had transformed Manila into ruins. “It was by far the most destructive event ever to take place on US soil,” writes Immerwahr, even if few soldiers realised they were liberating US nationals at the time. Burnham’s expansive vision was lost in the debris, and though some buildings were rebuilt a majority were replaced. Today, Manila’s pre-war architecture is remembered with fondness and nostalgia.