For nearly twenty years, an estimated 15-30,000 housing blocks have stood vacant in Brussels, around 55,000 units. Adopting a new Housing Code in 2013 in Brussels means in part that these numbers should come into sharper focus. An important protocol in the Code should help: water and electrical utility companies are required to provide the Regional government with lists of housing units where water or electricity consumption has been (nearly) zero over the foregoing year.
The policy should improve our understanding of how many empty houses remain in the Region while accelerating the return of rental units to the market. If not, allowing housing units to remain vacant is a violation of the Housing Code and may be punished by fines, a procedure that the Housing Code should expedite.
Notices transmitted by utility companies are not negligible: 14,000 water meters and 52,000 electricity meters are currently standing still! But these statistics should be analyzed with prudence and some nuance. Not all meters are connected to houses (they also supply offices, warehouses, maintenance sites and other buildings). Readings also only imply that a unit is empty.
Private landlords own the vast majority of unoccupied units, although public landlords are also part of this problem. Out of 39,250 social housing units, 2,275 are unoccupied and awaiting renovation; work has been approved for only 1,693.
Aside from empty houses, the amount of unoccupied office space also pushes up vacancy numbers in the capital: the Observatoire des Bureaux recorded more than 1,000,000m2 of unoccupied offices in 2013, of which 40% had been vacant for at least 3 years and 20% for 7 years! Plans to transform them, essentially into housing units, are multiplying. But at this point, it’s fair to describe the situation as oversaturated with developers encouraged by high profit potentials offered by high-end housing construction. What’s more, many business owners dispose of vacant floors above retail operations. A recent study proposed an inventory of inhabitable floors: more than 5,000 housing units could be created or refurbished in existing structures in commercial districts.
N. BERNARD, La lutte contre la vacance immobilière (à Bruxelles et ailleurs) : constats et bonnes pratiques, Bruxelles, La Charte, 2011