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Housing affordability in the Netherlands: the impact of rent and energy costs


Energy costs have been rising as well as rents, both in the Netherlands and elsewhere, leading to situations commonly described as ‘housing poverty’ and ‘fuel or energy poverty’. A dwelling may be unaffordable on at least two counts: rents or energy costs that are ‘too high’ in relation to income (excluding cases of ‘too low’ income). This paper measures comprehensively for the first time housing affordability of tenants in the Netherlands with respect to rent and fuel in order to gain insight in the ways this ongoing budgetary commitment can be calculated. Starting point is the expenditure-to-income ratio, which is usually used in the Netherlands to represent the affordability of housing consumption. For 2012 its components—incomes, rents and fuel costs—are separated out. The absence of a socially acceptable benchmark for ‘affordable’ versus ‘unaffordable’ housing and the fact that lower-income households pay relatively more on rent and energy than those with a higher income (Engel’s Law) call for an alternative method to measure affordability. The residual income approach is shown to be useful in identifying households with housing and energy affordability problems, once social norms have been established for the relationship between income, rent and energy expenses. It is concluded that even energy expenses by themselves can push households over the affordability threshold, in the situation where rents are considered as affordable.

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We would like to thank Gust Mariën for making the calculations and two referees and the Editors for their helpful comments on this paper. An earlier version of this contribution was presented at the RC43 conference of the International Sociological Association that took place in Amsterdam from 10–12 July, 2013.

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Correspondence to Marietta Haffner.



See Tables 9, 10, 11, 12.

Table 9 Percentiles of annual disposable income, based on income for all Dutch households, 2012
Table 10 Average monthly expenditures per item for single person households in a rental dwelling, according to the basic, in the comparative and the societal acceptable budget
Table 11 Norms for net rent ratio and energy cost ratio based on socially acceptable budget, according to income decile and type of household, 2012
Table 12 Share of tenants in the first five income deciles with a minimum income and above in dwellings with a regulated rent, according to energy ratio, income decile, and household type, 2012

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Haffner, M., Boumeester, H. Housing affordability in the Netherlands: the impact of rent and energy costs. J Hous and the Built Environ 30, 293–312 (2015).

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  • Affordability
  • Budgets
  • Energy costs
  • Expenditure-to-income ratio
  • Residual income
  • Renting
  • The Netherlands