Country: Wallonia, Belgium
Facilitates negotiation talks with the owners of abandoned buildings and other unused premises.
Picture by Amaury Henderick
This mechanism seeks to put an unoccupied building or premise back into the rental system, offering the owner either to put it back on the market, to sell it, to make repairs on the house or allow that the social housing agency takes over the management of it.
Legal Basis Housing legislation is set on a regional basis in Belgium. Until 2005, taxation on empty buildings was decided in Wallonia at the Regional level; since then every city whose Housing Plan has been approved by the Regional Parliament is bound to keep a permanent directory of unoccupied buildings and adopt a city regulation on it (article 190). As a way to fight against housing scarcity, The Wallonia Housing Code (Regional basis- articles 80-85) allows local stakeholders to take care of the unoccupied buildings through amicable settlement with the owner to avoid judiciary proceedings. 2 cities in Wallonia currently actively use this tool: Namur and Charleroi. The success of this procedure relies on the mobilization of all the different housing actors within the city.
CASE STUDY: Charleroi
Process Identification/ Directory In Charleroi, the retained criteria for unoccupied buildings is based on the building’s resident non-registration to the city service: if a building/apartment is not linked to anyone within the population register for the last 12 months a « soft requisition » process can start. The administrative police are mandated to investigate on the buildings and remove on the list those that are in renewal work or under an urban renovation plan.
''As the walloon cities can tax the unoccupied buildings, different other levers are used in other local settings to identify unoccupied buildings:
- Local prevention stewards warnings
- Local housing associations indications
- In the Brussels Region where a regional and communal taxation exists for unoccupied buildings, the association “Equipes populaires” has started an interactive map of these buildings where anyone can contribute and signal an empty building.
- Information from water, gas and electricity providers (although with the protection of data, it is more and more difficult for cities to access these information).''
Contacting the owner A first (and eventually a second) letter is sent to the owner; the idea is to get into contact and meet the owner to explain him the different possibilities for him to valorise his building (and avoid paying the tax on unoccupied building). NB: Taxation of 150 € per meter on the building facade applied for each floor
Explaining the alternatives Different solutions can be agreed with the owner: 1) Putting back the building into the rental system 2) Selling it 3) Renewing the building so as to occupy it (the city can help and subsidize some green renewal investments) 4) Making the Social Real Estate Agency manager of the building which then pays a rent to the owner (some renewal investments can be taken in charge by the Agency alongside with advance loans)
The organisation team Coordination:
- The Housing Service of the CPAS of Charleroi (Prevention and social Action Center)
- A liaison cell made of the different representatives of the local housing actors: The Housing House (Maison du Logement), local civil services (population/ unoccupied buildings/housing), the administrative Police, neighbourhood agents, the Housing Funds (Fonds du Logement), the Social Real Estate Agency (AIS), Labelled Associations promoting housing (APL).
Links and other sources
In Wallonia: Charleroi city: Charleroi first results on this process (2010-2012) Wallon Parliament:Regional measures on unocuppied buildings L'Avenir:Press article Labelled Association promoting housing (APL): Collectif Droit au Logement in Tournai
In Brussels Region: Tools against empty housing: Rassemblement bruxellois pour le droit à l’habitat Research study: Housing expulsion and homelessness in Brussels Region. A transversal legal approach