The increasing retail vacancy rate offers opportunities to partly solve the growing housing shortage in the Netherlands. In the 70 largest city centres, there is room for 10,000 new apartments when empty shops are converted. Almost as many homes as in the city centre of Utrecht at this moment.
Due to the shape, size and incidence of light, not all empty shops can be repurposed into homes. This is the case for 40% of total vacancy. Most conversions are possible in the municipality of Heerlen, where 330 houses can be added. Maastricht is in second place with 288. Of the five largest cities, The Hague in particular has plenty of room to offer new households a place to stay in the city centre. This concerns 251, closely followed by Eindhoven with 227.
Densify inner cities
The housing shortage in the 70 municipalities together is approximately 147,000. Repurposing shops could solve almost 7% of the housing demand without building outside the city limits. In this case, the possible densification of inner cities with high-rise buildings has not even been taken into account yet.
Now is the time for repurposing to prevent gaps in shopping streets. ''If we do nothing, vacancy in these inner cities will grow by 100,000 square meters,'' says retail expert Chris Lanting. ''The retail rents and the value of the real estate have been declining in many places for years, while the housing shortage is great and only increasing. It is now economically interesting to take action.''
Large-scale conversion will only succeed if municipalities, property owners, retailers and financiers join forces. From municipalities this requires more freedom in zoning plans, from real estate owners the courage to invest, from financiers to think in terms of opportunities instead of risks, and from retailers the willingness to move to main shopping streets. It is important that municipalities take the lead in this.
''A good example is Hengelo. In this municipality, the city centre is being restructured on the basis of a future-focused plan. It is a measure that suits this time when there is less need for retail space. Collaboration is now being sought in Sittard, Heerlen and Schiedam, among others,'' Chris Lanting adds.
Such cooperation is in everyone's interest. A vibrant centre is good for the retailer. A healthy retail market is good for the property owner and the financier. And the municipality wants a vibrant city centre for its residents.