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Refugees coordinator calls for properties in Brussels for housing Ukrainians

Pierre Verbeeren, the coordinator for Ukrainian refugees in Brussels. (BELGA PHOTO LAURIE DIEFFEMBACQ)
07:08 13/04/2022

Pierre Verbeeren, the coordinator for Ukrainian refugees in Brussels, says the city wants to offer temporary shelter to 20,000 refugees from Ukraine by July. It's looking for 150,000 m² of space to be transformed into housing, Bruzz reports. "This amounts to a new, small Brussels municipality," he says.

Last week, Verbeeren launched a call for available real estate with the aim of finding about a thousand housing places by 26 April. Refugees from Ukraine should be housed here from June. Of the 200,000 refugees that Belgium is expected to receive, according to the highest projections, Brussels accounts for 10%.

For those 20,000 new Inhabitants of Brussels, there is currently no housing available on the ordinary housing market. About 15% of refugees have already found temporary shelter through local initiatives and in people's homes, says Verbeeren. "The region still has to look for 10,000 places, the municipalities for 7,000."

"We are in contact with a lot of project developers, but it is too early to say who or which buildings they might make available," says Verbeeren. These are places of varying sizes, spread over all 19 municipalities. "Spaces where up to a thousand people can go and places where we can accommodate about 30 people."

About 20 possible partners have so far heeded Verbeeren's call. Large real estate players such as Immobel, ION and Ciril, which is part of real estate group Democodo, don't have places in Brussels available, according to Bruzz. "But there are still real estate players in Brussels who can help," Verbeeren says.

The search is on for suitable disused housing sites

The Brussels Ukraine coordinator not only mentions disused residential care centres, office space and 'collective facilities' as examples of buildings that can be transformed into emergency housing, but also active religious places. “This week and next, bilateral talks with all 19 Brussels municipalities are on the agenda on which we expect proposals from each municipality," he says.

For the recently appointed coordinator, who was formerly at the helm of Doctors of the World, building safety will be the biggest challenge. "Ensuring the safety of the building itself and access for emergency services is essential,” Verbeeren says. “Providing sanitary facilities will also be a challenge. You don't just get a bathroom and kitchen installed in an office space. A big difference with temporary emergency housing for homeless people, for example, is that most Ukrainians can count on a certain income. They can work. So fewer staff will be needed for guidance on the spot from, for example, the Red Cross."

The spaces need to be freely available and ready for use soon because Brussels wants to provide housing for 5,000 people by 31 May. This figure will double by July.

"This has never been done before in Brussels or Belgium,” concludes Verbeeren. “It comes down to a new, small Brussels municipality. A gigantic undertaking, in other words. And it’s a race against time. Will it work out in time? I can't promise anything."

Written by Nick Amies