A damning official report into a string of scandals at Dutch housing corporations describes some bosses as ‘sun kings’ who refused to take any responsibility for their actions.The long-awaited report, the result of a lengthy parliamentary inquiry into financial problems at several of the country’s biggest housing corporations, was published on Thursday.
Some directors and managers had ‘seriously failed’ and damaged society’s trust in them, the report says. The mixture of government control, market forces and self-regulation had corrupted the system.
‘The system almost fell apart… this should never be allowed to happen again,’ commission chairman and independent MP Roland van Vliet said.
‘It was a poisonous cocktail of over-ambitious directors, failing regulation, a lack of clear boundaries and self-regulation,’ he said.
The report was set up in the wake of a string of scandals. They include that of Rotterdam housing corporation Woonbron, which lost €230m when it bought the former ocean liner SS Rotterdam to turn into a hotel and conference centre,
Amsterdam-based Rochdale ending up demanding millions of euros back from its former boss, and Zuid-Holland corporation Vestia almost going bankrupt after speculating on the stock exchange.
Many corporations also paid their directors vastly inflated salaries.
‘The large amount of freedom, lots of money and fragmented regulation led to some social housing providers becoming “sun kings”,’ the report says. ‘They have been totally unwilling to take responsibility and in many cases have tried to pass responsibility on to others.’
Politicians also come in for criticism and putting their own political agendas and hobby horses first.
Banks are also criticised for their behaviour, in particular the ‘aggressive sale’ of complicated derivatives. Banks, the commission says, have put their own profits above the interest of good social housing provision.
Housing corporations regulators and umbrella organisation Aedes have forgotten that housing corporations have a social role to fulfill. Aedes has set itself up as an ‘effective lobby’, campaigning against better regulation and lower executive pay.
The commission made a string of recommendations to prevent future abuses. In particular, it says, housing corporations should return to their core task of providing affordable housing.
In addition, tenants and local authorities should be given more influence in terms of maintenance and the construction of new social housing projects. The commission also says an independent housing commission should be set up.
Housing corporations were first set up in the mid-19th century to provide cheap, good housing to the poor without making a profit. The movement took off at the beginning of the last century and corporations were set up by a wide variety of church, political and union groups.
Today, the Netherlands has some 500 or so housing corporations which rent out, maintain and manage 2.4 million homes – over one-third of the country’s housing stock.
Housing corporations mostly focus on the rent-controlled sector but have branched out into more expensive homes. They are now under pressure from the government to go back to their roots and focus on cheap housing for low income households.
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