Samenspel in stedelijke vernieuwing: Investeringsbeslissingen van woningcorporaties in stedelijke vernieuwingswijken in samenwerking met andere actoren
The subject of this dissertation concerns the investment decisions made by housing associations in urban renewal neighbourhoods in cooperation with other stakeholders.
Project background and problem statement
A number of radical changes are taking place in the development and renewal of urban neighbourhoods in the Netherlands. First of all, the focus has shifted from large-scale new building on expansion locations to the renewal of existing urban areas. Second, financial resources available for urban renewal have considerably decreased. Apart from the decrease in investment capacity offered by private parties that resulted from the financial and economic crisis, government funding for urban renewal has also been suspended since 2014 and the investment resources of housing associations have diminished. Financial incentives by the (national) government for the renewal of urban neighbourhoods in decline are no longer available. Third, as a result of the revisions made to the Housing Act (Woningwet) of 2015, the role of housing associations and their status has significantly changed. Housing associations have scaled down on their core activity, namely the management and development of housing for low-income groups. Since housing associations are currently restricted in their activities, they are focusing more on the affordable segment and they are more reluctant to focus their new building plans on the redifferentiation of existing neighbourhoods (Gruis, 2018).
Nevertheless, investing in the quality of life and the vivaciousness of a city is still necessary. That is why the questions have arisen of how investment decisions in urban renewal can be made within this new context, and how housing associations and other actors can stimulate one another to invest in urban renewal neighbourhoods.
This PhD research project aims to contribute to developing further knowledge regarding investment decisions by housing associations in urban renewal. The first goal is to provide insight into the investment behaviour of housing associations in urban renewal by focusing on their cooperation with market participants and municipalities. The second goal is to provide insight into the factors which influence the investment decisions made by housing associations.
First of all, the scientific relevance and the contribution that this research project will make lies in the link between the private market participants’ approach on the one hand, and the perspective of housing associations, seen as social enterprises, on the other hand. Second, this research project contributes to the application of Ostrom’s IAD framework and the principles regarding issues of ‘common pool resources’ in a complex urban context. Third, in this research project the method of game simulation was applied, which up until now has only been used to a limited extent in Spatial Planning.
The societal relevance of this research project is evident in view of the research programs and current trajectories that are moving towards a future agenda for urban renewal. The attention paid to creating viable neighbourhoods has decreased as a result of the economic crisis, the termination of the government policy, the changes in housing policy and in the system of housing, as well as the social system. The threatening standstill in urban renewal could have huge consequences on the quality of life of the urban neighbourhoods in decline.
Research approach and methods
The core research question is: “In what way do housing associations’ investment decisions in regard to urban renewal emerge through the cooperation with other actors, and which factors play a role?” This core question can be answered by the replies to the following three research questions.
1. How do we define, in this research project, urban renewal and what are the roles of housing associations and other actors in urban renewal?
2. Which factors influence housing associations’ investment decisions that pertain to urban renewal in cooperation with other actors?
3. Which other form of cooperation is there for housing associations and actors to stimulate each other to invest in urban renewal neighbourhoods?
Research Question 1: How do we define, in this research project, urban renewal and what are the roles of housing associations and other actors in urban renewal?
Chapter 2 addresses the context of the housing market, housing associations and urban renewal. The definition of urban renewal employed in this research project is focused on the physical aspects of renewal. The goals of urban renewal are first aimed at housing stock differentiation and the quality of housing improvement, secondly at the quality of home environment, thirdly at safety improvement, fourthly at the emancipation of vulnerable groups, and finally at the supply or combination of facilities.
During the past few decades urban renewal in the Netherlands has gone through major changes. After the Second World War, the neighbourhood policy first altered course from clear-cutting and reconstruction to urban regeneration. After that, the policy developed towards urban renewal, in which the former direct policytargeting of the Government first evolved into financial boosting, and subsequently into knowledge and expertise support. The introduction of the Large Cities Policy (in Dutch: Grotestedenbeleid, GSB) was an important turning point. The 56-neighborhoods-approach placed the focus on a limited number of neighbourhoods and subsequently on 40 power neighbourhoods (in Dutch: krachtwijken). Apart from the public funds allocated from the Investment Budget for Urban Renewal (in Dutch: Investeringsbudget Stedelijke Vernieuwing, IVS), a substantial contribution was also to be made by the housing association sector. In 2015, the governmental policy for urban renewal was brought to a halt and the Minister of ‘Housing and Civil Service’ (in Dutch: Wonen en Rijksdienst) declared the process of urban renewal to be completed. This declaration of mission accomplished also implied a new division of roles between the parties involved. After their privatisation, the housing associations’ steering possibilities related to their investment behaviour had become restricted and the municipality was assigned a facilitating role. However, within this renewal process, the municipality and the housing associations still remain dependent on one another. Market parties are not necessarily involved, partly due to their less pronounced interest in established property (property in renewal neighbourhoods).
On the one hand, strategies for urban renewal are focused on either existing or new real estate, and on the other hand on either current or new residents. The main focus of this research project is on demolition and new construction, which concerns both new target groups and new real estate. It primarily addresses the application and execution of integral development and not organic area development. The emphasis is on the way in which this approach, that has been based upon the combined strategy of demolition and new construction, can be sustained by housing associations in cooperation with other actors.
Research Question 2: Which factors influence housing associations’ investment decisions that pertain to urban renewal in cooperation with other actors?
In Chapter 3, several theoretical perspectives are discussed, which form the basis for selecting Ostrom’s so-called Institutional Analysis and Development (IAD) framework as the theoretical framework for this research project. In this framework, a central place has been assigned to the mutual dependence and interaction between actors. Investment decisions pertaining to urban renewal are viewed as actors’ collective actions, which are influenced by three external variables, namely the physical, the social and the institutional characteristics. Physical characteristics include the current economic, demographical and planning states of affairs. Social characteristics refer to the ‘community’, in other words, to the social and cultural context such as the level of trust, reciprocity and shared opinions. Institutional characteristics include the current rules which create predictability and order in relationships and individual behaviour. In order to understand these influencing factors, an explorative case study has been carried out on the renewal of the neighbourhood ‘Kanaleneiland Centrum’ in Utrecht, as described in Chapter 4. The results and insights obtained from this case study have been transferred to a more general level, and presented according to the IAD framework.
The physical context is regarded as an important and influential factor in which the economic characteristics can have a particularly great and even crucial impact. The regional housing market and the expected value development are decisive for the investments made by the market participants, and they are important for housing associations. The social and cultural context plays an important role in investment behaviour as well. This includes the opinions shared and the commitment shown, the quality of the relationship (trust) and reciprocity, as well as the number of actors, the kinds of actors and their culture. The institutional context is determining as well as the contracting and financing, control, status and legislation (Housing Act, in Dutch: Woningwet), as these are also particularly important.
Research Question 3: Which other form of cooperation is there for housing associations and actors to stimulate each other to invest in urban renewal neighbourhoods?
By using game simulations and interviews, three specific collaborative relationships between housing associations and other actors have been studied, which have consecutively been reported in Chapters 5, 6 and 7. The game simulations are focused on interaction, cooperation and the mutual influence of the actors. First, the cooperation with investors will be addressed, afterwards the cooperation with building companies, and then the interplay with municipalities. For each collaboration relationship five expectations were formulated, which were explored on the basis of in-depth interviews and game simulations. The results have been reported for each collaboration relationship separately.
The interplay between housing associations and investors
Chapter 5 deals with the cooperation between housing associations and institutional investors. The subject of middle-priced rent is central to this analysis. Due to the revisions made to the Housing Act and the implementation of a suitability check (in Dutch: passenheidstoets), affordability was given assigned greater priority. Consequently, the housing associations have focused primarily on the subsidised housing (in Dutch: sociale huurwoning) segment which fell below the limit of housing allowance capping (in Dutch: aftoppingsgrens). The lower middle segment could become a target for investors, but it is doubtful whether they will prioritise this option on a large scale.
The game simulation and the interviews resulted in the following observations.
1. Institutional investors are prepared to invest in the middle segment when they can make cooperation agreements directly with housing associations stating who serves which sector and with which product. This is to ensure that they both avoid getting tangled up in the same business. The price-performance ratio is particularly important. Participants need to be complementary and they need to take a proper perspective on value development. One prerequisite for achieving this is that the participants must be open and transparent and that they trust each other. Due to cultural differences, having cold feet might prove to be a discouraging factor.
2. Agreements regarding the rent category, the time frame for selling, an increase in rent and assigning roles are important for housing associations in their cooperation with investors. However, it appears that whether or not housing associations concentrate on the affordable segment is determined by other factors such as the housing market region, the market position of the housing association and the housing association’s interpretation of the Housing Act.
3. Municipalities can stimulate housing associations and investors to invest in particular rental categories. They can use public law to prescribe this in their planning regulations, and private law to apply specific conditions to the implementation of rental categories. These options, however, are at odds with the land price policy, which is usually focused on generating revenue.
4. By differentiating the land prices per rental category, municipalities can stimulate investments in middle-priced rent. However, differentiation does not appear to be a decisive reason for investors to invest. Agreements which aim at limiting the risks in the lower and middle segment, such as agreements regarding increasing the rent and the time frame for selling, appear to be more important to investors. The lower middle segment is a stable investment product with a low risk profile. However, the risks are increased by the uncertainty regarding government policy, the landlord’s levy and the house evaluation system that is used to determine fair rent (in Dutch: Woningwaarderingsstelsel).
5. The cooperation between housing associations and investors regarding investments in middle-priced rented housing is hampered by the social and cultural context, such as cultural differences, rather than by substantive opinions, although the latter does play a role as well. Delving into each other’s interests and building trust takes time, but it is absolutely essential for good cooperation.
The interplay between housing associations and building companies
Chapter 6 deals primarily with the cooperation between housing associations and building companies, in which the issues of chain cooperation and concept dwellings take central stage. Chapter 6 also addresses the role that the developers might play in this cooperation. The housing associations’ enhanced focus on affordable houses is affecting the demand for building companies. Increasingly, housing associations concentrate on cost reduction and seek affordable solutions in the form of standard draft houses, and a long-term, non-project-based cooperation with co-makers or chain cooperation. The Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) approach may offer opportunities as well. However, these solutions call for another type of cooperation. Chain cooperation is regarded as a promising alternative to improve cooperation, to reduce wastefulness and to enhance quality. Nonetheless, the building sector is known for wasting money and materials, for a lack of innovation and its practically never-ending construction procedures (Vrijhoef, 2011). Developers could provide added value to this cooperation, not only in terms of substance and funding, but also in terms of organisation and marketing (Gruis et al., 2009).
The game simulation and the interviews resulted in the following observations.
According to the housing associations, the application of a standard draft house for housing associations, which has been developed by building companies, does not produce the housing associations’ desired results such as cost reduction and quality enhancement. In daily practice, standard draft houses are rarely built, since each housing association has its own specific demands and wishes. These variations on the standard are actually quite expensive. Investing in affordable houses could indeed be stimulated by copying a draft house that has already been applied in other locations.
2. In practice, long-term, non-project-based cooperation between housing associations and building companies, who have regular partners and co-makers does not lead to a better price-quality ratio. To include the building companies in deliberations at an early stage might offer benefits in terms of product optimization. This strategy does not primarily contribute to cost reduction, but it may have a slightly dampening impact on price increases. It does provide the building companies with insight into the housing association’s organisation and, in doing so, it can contribute to speeding up investment decisions and to shortening the project’s processing time.
3. The cooperation between housing associations and building companies might create opportunities in the field of Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), which is when a building company agrees to take on the long-term maintenance at his or her own risk. However, the idea regarding whether or not this opportunity is realistic is unambiguous. From the viewpoint of cost and efficiency, housing associations are, to a certain extent, interested in having the building company take care of maintenance, but in practice they prefer to carry out the maintenance themselves in order to secure customer contact and customer satisfaction.
4. Developers can contribute to finding solutions for affordable housing, if they were to serve as a link between the housing association and building company. In addition, they can add value by providing land positions and/or knowledge and expertise. Because housing associations withdraw from land exploitations and area development, developers can take over the management role, as long as the interests of the housing association are served well. Their knowledge and expertise allow developers to achieve a viable business case. The cultural difference between housing associations and developers deserves attention as this could be a hindrance.
5. By involving the building companies early in the development phase, the quality of the relationship and cooperation between housing associations and building companies can benefit, but it does restrict the organisation’s chances to negotiate, due to the lack of competition. This can be countered by having the conformity requirements with market standards tested by an external cost consultant. Being involved at an early stage in the process signifies an investment in time, money and responsibility for building companies, which must be recouped in the future.
The interplay between housing associations and municipalities
Chapter 7 deals with the cooperation between housing associations and municipalities, in which the focus is placed on performance agreements because these agreements play a more crucial role as a result of the new Housing Act having been implemented. The evaluation of the Housing Act (Commissie van Bochove, 2018) shows that the law has strict national rules and that there are not enough options for customization at the local level. Housing associations refrain from using the freedom that has been offered to them, subsequently causing societal projects to enter dire straits. Suggestions for improvement refer to creating boundaries which are less strict and more general and which offer more possibilities for local agreements between municipalities, housing associations and the tenants’ organisations. The participants cited areas for improvement, not only in the cooperation and division of roles, but also in regard to process, content and knowledge. Investments in urban renewal should be assessed by weighing them in view of such factors as affordability, availability, quality and sustainability. Improvements in the cooperation agreements and performance agreements are assumed to result in more investments and more rapid decision making in urban renewal neighbourhoods.
The game simulation and the interviews resulted in the following observations.
1. Housing associations are inclined to invest in urban renewal if municipalities are willing to make offers in return for their reciprocity. A one-sided wish list, which has been drawn up by the municipality, has an inhibiting effect. If openness and transparency are shown from the start, this will lead to feasible agreements. The most promising incentive seems to be the provision of new building locations. In addition, municipalities can impose planning obstacles and private-law liabilities. Municipalities seem to have little to offer when it comes to making additional investments in the living environment and public space. They prefer to fund issues such as sustainability.
2. Local settlement between housing associations - by shared prioritisation and a division in matters and activities such as new construction, neighbourhood renewal and quality of life — appeals to the participants involved, but it is not considered to be a promising option when it comes to an urban renewal challenge. Parties discuss the option of settlement within the sector, but ‘performing to the best of one’s abilities’ is not mentioned in performance agreements. Preferably, housing associations make joint agreements in which each individual contribution has been specified. Exchanging issues and making trade-offs could take place more often, but in the end each housing association should contribute to all of the different issues.
3. A broader scope of performance agreements within both the physical and the social domain — not only including quantitative agreements (number of houses) but also qualitative agreements (affordability, neighbourhood development, new construction) — does not seem to stimulate investments in urban renewal. It does, however, improve the quality of the discussion on investment in urban renewal, which in turn leads to better cooperation, and helps housing associations to decide whether or not to invest. Nevertheless, if the scope is too broad, it makes matters more complex and this hinders participants from making concrete agreements. Sustainability seems to have become the leading principle in a housing association’s investment challenge and it has taken more precedence compared to public housing objectives.
4. The parties concerned were not in favour of long-term performance agreements, which last longer than 5 to 10 years and require an annual update. This was because long-term goals make the performance agreement trajectory too complex. Housing associations and municipalities should make more of an effort to create an integrated approach and policy agenda which would result in a continuous strategy. When the performance agreement cycle has been aligned with the four-year period of the sitting Mayor and Aldermen, in combination with an annual monitoring of the performance agreements, greater efficiency results.
5. Making more concrete and firm performance agreements leads to realising the goals and investments aimed at in urban renewal. Specific, measurable, acceptable, realistic and timebound agreements lead to better results compared to nonbinding intentions and commitments. However, due to uncertainties, it is difficult to make accountable agreements in all of these cases. A stimulating effect results when municipalities connect incentives to agreements that are honoured; this is linked to reciprocity. Sanctions have a rather demotivating effect on housing associations. Sanctions do not go hand in hand with a trusting relationship, which is certainly needed in order to perform the task collectively. This also requires mutual transparency in investments and revenues.
There are some limitations to the reliability of this research project, particularly in regard to the game simulations, which is due to the simplification required during the simulation. However, this disadvantage can be somewhat neutralized by comparing the results of the simulation with the results of the interviews and by the evaluation which was conducted after the game simulation took place. During this evaluation, the participants reflected on the results of the simulation compared to practice.
The combination of game simulation, interviews and evaluation seems to provide a good approach.
In this research project, Ostrom’s IAD-framework functioned well as a theoretical and analytical framework because the focus in the IAD framework is on behaviour, interdependency and the interaction between actors. The problem concerning the quality of life in urban renewal neighbourhoods occurs within a complex and dynamic context and requires intervention. Such an intervention is possible by means of public governance and regulation, or by assigning property boundaries and privatisation (Van der Krabben et al,, 2014). Ostrom’s work shows that selfregulation and self-management can serve as alternatives to the two interventions mentioned above. Ostrom’s combined design principles can ensure long-term management and they seem to be quite evident. However, because the environment is complex and dynamic, urban renewal cannot operate entirely on self-organisation and self-management. Due to both the strict application of public regulation (Housing Act) and the market forces (housing market), not all of Ostrom’s principles are applicable. The interaction between the government, the market and selforganisation is particularly important in urban renewal neighbourhoods.
The following recommendations are proposed for future research.
A research project regarding housing associations’ investment behaviour over a period of 5 to 10 years after the entry into force of the revised Housing Act 2015, as well as the long-term effects of this investment behaviour on urban renewal in the Netherlands.
A research project regarding the role of the government at various levels in relationship to the investment behaviour of housing associations, as well as the influence of national, regional and municipal policy and politics on housing associations’ behaviour.
A research project concerning the specific application of Ostrom’s design principles on ‘urban commons’ within a wide context, both national and international.
A research project concerning the application of game simulations as a practical instrument for initiating and accelerating complex urban renewal projects.
There is support for the first research expectation that, by using a different type of cooperation, housing associations and investors can stimulate each other to jointly invest in the middle-priced rental segment in urban renewal neighbourhoods. However, one should note that the regional housing market is a highly decisive factor within this context.
There is no support for the second expectation that, by using a different type of cooperation, housing associations and building companies can contribute to realizing affordable rented accommodation in urban renewal neighbourhoods. Draft houses are seldom built according to the standard, and both long-term cooperation agreements and co-makership do not lead to a desired reduction in costs.
The third expectation is partly supported. The rules and regulations laid down in the new Housing Act made it possible for housing associations and municipalities to improve the process of making cooperation and performance agreements. These improvements have led partly to both accelerated decision making and more investments in urban renewal. In particular, more attention should be paid to reciprocity and transparency.
Based on these observations, the following, more general statements can be made regarding important issues which have emerged from this research project.
The new Housing Act has a great impact on housing associations’ investment decisions, both within the housing market and outside their region.
The political and administrative sensitive environment makes it difficult for municipalities to make agreements which are focused on a joint approach with housing associations.
The housing associations’ decisions regarding whether or not they should invest in the middle-priced segment has a great deal to do with a housing association’s housing market region, and the municipal policy in that particular region.
Land positions are quite a determining factor in investment decisions regarding urban renewal. The increase of market players’ private land positions makes it difficult for municipalities to influence these investment decisions.
Chain cooperation and co-makership between housing associations and building companies, which are based on a long-term relationship, deliver a product which is more in tune with the demands and wishes of housing associations, thus speeding up projects.
Housing associations seldom build standard draft housing according to the standard, because the housing associations strictly abide by their own demands and wishes and are reluctant to make concessions, even though this could reduce costs.
Sustainability seems to be the guiding principle in the task designated for housing associations’, as well as the local performance agreements made with municipalities, whereas changing from one source of energy to another appears to be a major issue at a higher level.