17 - 18 september 2024 - Gare Maritime, Brussels

Brussels capital region

The Brussels Capital region

Where are the additional square meters for housing in the Brussels of tomorrow?

Our session on the housing situation in Brussels starts with an introduction by Rudi Vervoort, Minister-President of the capital Brussels, explaining how in the past the region left all real estate projects to the private sector. This problem is now solved with 42 acres of terrain being available for public projects. Since 2014, more than 130 acres were defined to new green spaces, with 55 of those already being realized.

This tendence is deemed even more important when we note that in November of 2021, 51.000 households were waiting for social housing. In response to this social crisis, we should put solidarity and general interest at the heart of the public interest as well as allow for more flexibility and adaptability when preparing the terrain for social projects. Vervoort ends with a realistic conclusion: “Having plans and visions is a good thing, but it means nothing when they don’t become operational.”

Secretary of state for the Brussels capital region, also in charge of Housing, Nawal Ben Hamou, takes over the word from Vervoort and further accentuates the urgency in terms of housing. It is thus crucial to put procedures in place and speed up the regional construction programs. To do so, the current working methods need to be changed. Hence why, together with UPSI and the construction sector, the SLRB has worked out a new acquisition strategy. The results were positive with 1.848 housing units being acquisitioned and 504 more on the way, as well as 18.467 housing units renovated and another 13.000 in progress of being renovated.

However, certain important barriers remain in this positive development as 1.200 social housing projects are held up because of permit delays due to complicated procedures, multiple stakeholders and too much subjectivity. “It is no longer acceptable for projects to take months to be completed. The shutdown of construction sites and constant change of plans represent wasted public money”, underlines Ben Hamou.

Her objective is simple: halve the current delays. How? Some solutions she proposes are: limit project meetings, modify the public inquiry period and abolish the transition to consultation committees, and entrust the government with the issuance of the permit (and not the delegated official who changes too often).

Concluding on the subject, she affirms it is necessary to: dare to make changes, make Brussels administrations project-targeted and solution-oriented, improve collaboration and investigate other innovative solutions with the investors present here, together with the government partners. “Let’s move towards simplifications and the acceleration of housing development in Brussels, let’s join our strengths for households in need”.

Finally, Pascal Smet, Secretary of state for the Brussels capital region, in charge of Urbanism, takes the floor. He starts with a positive announcement that a first read of the RRU and the digitalization of the permit procedure are approved by the government. Full approval is expected in the summer of 2023, with a vigorous enrollment expected between January and June 2024. According to Smet, the biggest challenge is not ecological, but centered around “how can we keep our cities affordable and social?” He insists we should keep on building but not just in any way possible. Therefore, he proposes 5 paradigm shifts:

  1. Mentality shift that prefers renovation over demolition.
  2. Create mixed buildings in mixed neighborhoods.
  3. The city must remain livable and we must stop simplifying the discourses used. For example, we all want NIMBY and biodiversity at the same time.
  4. Create more public spaces on the roofs.
  5. The way of building is crucial for a city’s identity, it is thus necessary to keep in mind: optimization, individual responsibility and sustainability.

“We are not a perfect city, but we can always do better and we must improve the quality of life. There has always been a tourism policy in Brussels, but we have never considered Brussels as a city to invest in. Together, we need to create a positive story to attract people and new investors”, concludes Smet.

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