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.

 
 
 
 

Could twin towns bring Britain back together?

An unlikely pair. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Twin towns: an irrelevant novelty to most of us, a peculiar name on a village’s welcome sign. But could linking one British town to another – a domestic reinterpretation of this long-standing European practice – help bring Britain back together in a time of national crisis?

Born in the aftermath of World War II, town twinning aimed to foster cooperation and solidarity across Europe. Communities entered formal alliances, nurturing friendships and shared histories. Coventry forged links with Dresden and Volgograd, then Stalingrad, marking the devastation faced by their citizens during the war.

The democratisation of Greece, Spain and Portugal during the 1970s led to a new wave of twin towns across Europe, as did the fall of the Soviet Union a decade later. Since its inception, the focus of town twinning has been on uniting people through relationships. It is a testament to the initiative’s success that many of these remain to this day; Coventry recently enjoyed a performance at the city’s cathedral by Volgograd’s children’s choir.

While European relations have improved since the 1940s, unity at home has received less attention. As a result, Britain is riven with deep economic, political, educational and cultural divides. These fault lines are increasingly determined by geography, with a growing gap between our big metropolitan cities and almost everywhere else.

In comparison to other European countries, we face staggering levels of regional inequality; six of the ten poorest regions in northern Europe can been found in the UK. As outlined by Alan Milburn, the government’s former social mobility tsar, “the country seems to be in the grip of a self-reinforcing spiral of ever-growing division. That takes a spatial form, not just a social one.”

These divisions are poisoning our body politic. As Adam Smith argued in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, putting yourself in someone else's shoes is vital for developing a moral compass; in doing so "we conceive ourselves enduring all the same torments, we enter as it were into his body, and become in some measure the same person with him..." But this is difficult when we have little interaction or experience of those with opposing views.

This is increasingly likely in geographically polarised Britain, with the places we live dominated by people who think alike. Our political leaders must commit time and energy to bridging these divides, just as the leaders of Europe did in the aftermath of the Second World War. By forging links between different parts of the country, a new era of domestic town twinning would do just that.


School exchanges between sister towns would offer an opportunity for children to be exposed to places, people and perspectives very different to their own. This would allow future generations to see things from an alternative and opposing perspective. It may also embed from a young age an awareness of the diversity of experiences seen by people across our highly unequal country.

MPs would be encouraged to spend time in their constituency’s sister town. First-hand exposure to voters in a very different part of the country would surely soften the views of even the most entrenched parliamentarian, making for a more civil debate in the Commons. Imagine the good this would do for Parliament today, with Brexit gridlocked because of the unwillingness of MPs to compromise.

In 2016 the Carnegie UK Trust launched its Twin Towns UK programme, a pilot linking twenty towns across the UK to examine how they might develop together. Emerging benefits include a reduction of insularity and a greater awareness of the bigger picture. Its focus was not on bridging economic divides – towns with similar socioeconomic characteristics were twinned – but initial outcomes from the scheme suggest a broader programme of domestic town twinning could have a powerful impact.

Looking further back, Camden has been twinned with Doncaster since the 1980s, a relationship that unionised Camden Town Hall workers forged in a display of solidarity with striking miners during the 1980s. Funds were raised to feed families of striking workers at the pit and Camden locals even drove north to deliver presents at Christmas. Though the relationship appears less active today, it serves as a powerful reminder of twinning’s capacity to bring people from very different places together.

As we prepare for Brexit it’s imperative that we protect existing twin town relationships with our European partners. This is of vital importance when we know sadly many of these are under threat from austerity and gloriously un-PC mayors. But we should look to breathe new life into these traditions too, where possible. Domestic town twinning would do just that: a step towards bringing Britain back together, just as a continent was reunited after the devastation of war.

Ben Glover is a researcher at the think tank Demos.