Annemarie van Gaal: Why not nationalise a few housing corporations?

Badly behaved housing corporations should be the last ones to complain about the new housing accord, writes Annemarie van Gaal

Much has been said about the remuneration of SNS Reaal’s new CEO Gerard van Olphen. Too much, in fact.

Of course €550,000 is a lot of money but the job is a complicated one and having the world and his dog watching your every move doesn’t make it easier.

I do have one question, however. How can it be reconciled with the law that governs top incomes? The Wet Normering Inkomen (WNT) states that no public sector official can earn more than 130% of a ministerial salary, i.e. €144,000. Including all expenses, this amounts to €230,000 a year before taxes. SNS Reaal was nationalised on February 1 and the new CEO was presented on the same day. The WNT became operative on January 1.

Can it be that finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem himself became the first to flaunt this law? Perhaps the contract with Van Olphen was signed before January 1, 2013. Can someone please check when the deal with Van Olphen was made and when the contract was signed? Did the SNS Reaal executives still think they had a chance at the time and did the finance ministry act according to its own agenda behind their back? And if so, why?

Inspiring leadership

Let’s turn our attention to another sector for top earners for a moment: the housing corporations. A housing corporation is a business but does the difficulty of the job justify the huge salaries that some directors are still earning? At this moment, a third of all housing corporation directors earn significantly over the Balkenende norm. Housing corporation director Erik Staal pocketed half a million a year until his derivatives gamble went pear shaped and he had to go.

In spite of the fact that his mismanagement cost a couple of billions, Staal was applauded by his own supervisory board for his ‘inspiring leadership’. This same board agreed to a golden goodbye to the tune of €3.5m.

Just to put things in perspective: an income of €43,000 a year represents the cutting off point for a rent controlled home. According to the housing accord, families in rent controlled homes who have more than €43,000 will have to pay a rent increase of 4% a year. In his final year in charge Staal earned almost a hundred times €43,000.

No idea

And here we come to the crux of the problem: the sector’s executives have no idea of the problems families on low incomes are facing. I don’t want to tar all housing corporation bosses with the same brush – some of them do a great job- but I do think the reactions of the sector to the housing accord are disgusting. By means of a proposed tax on assets of €1.7bn over four years, housing corporations will be contributing to the rent subsidies the government is giving to families on low incomes.

Marc Calon, chairman of the umbrella organisation for housing corporations, labelled the proposals ‘idiotic’ and threatens to halt investment and slow down the production of rent controlled homes to an unacceptable level.

In short, the sector is doing its utmost to paint a picture of future woe. ‘Idiotic’ says the sector that has for years failed to clean up its act, busy as it was thinking up advantageous fiscal constructions, losing billions on megalomaniacal projects, getting embroiled in financial shenanigans and ill advised gambles on the stock market. Idiotic? It’s enough to make the government’s blood boil.

It has just nationalised a bank which may or may not have needed nationalising. Isn’t it time it nationalised a few housing corporations?

Annemarie van Gaal is an entrepreneur and head of publishing company AM Media. She is also a writer and television personality


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