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New study estimates 4,500 empty homes in Brussels region

06:59 29/02/2024

An estimated 4,500 homes are sitting vacant in Brussels while the city suffers from a housing crisis, according to research commissioned by Brussels housing minister Nawal Ben Hamou (PS).

The number is lower than previously thought, Le Soir reports, but still too high for a city with a shortage of suitable and affordable places to live.

To put a number on the empty homes in the Belgian capital, researchers from ULB and VUB built a model, which will be re-evaluated in five years' time, by cross-referencing a series of databases.

With the help of algorithms, they first estimated that the region had between 17,000 and 26,400 empty homes and that around 10,000 buildings could reasonably be considered "suspect".

Next, a test sample of 5,000 addresses, selected at random but taking into account the diversity of the buildings in Brussels, was checked several times by the regional administration. The result is a list which researchers hope will make inspections more efficient.

“Until now, the city had to proceed more or less blindly,” research coordinator Anneloes Vandenbroucke, from the Brussels Studies Institute, told Bruzz.

“Vacancy is not always problematic or obvious. Between two moves, a property can be empty for a while.”

Refined indicators point to an overall residential vacancy of between 0.7% and 4.6% of the total stock, with a "sanctionable" vacancy between 0.2% and 1.8%, or between 720 and 9,000 flats or houses.

“We ordered all Brussels addresses according to the theoretical probability that the properties are vacant,” explained statistician and lead researcher Rembert De Blander.

“So if you check the properties at the top of the list first, you have a greater chance of coming across empty properties. That's also when your monitoring pays off the most, because something like this requires a lot of budget.”

ULB and VUB believe that it is realistic to conclude that despite its very high population density, Brussels has around 4,500 homes sitting empty. In Brussels it is an offence under the Housing Code to keep a property intended for housing empty, in whole or in part.

“It remains difficult to pursue a targeted policy against vacancy when the figures vary so widely,” Werner Van Mieghem of the Brussels Federation for the Right to Housing told Bruzz.

“The question is which figure is correct. Are there still enough empty homes to effectively provide an alternative to the need for additional, affordable housing? That’s an open question, but one that helps determine the focus of policymakers and interest groups.”

Written by Helen Lyons