Alderman becomes developer to speed up housing construction

Publication, Area and Property Development

Auke Schipper (44) will start on 1 September as development manager at area developer VanWonen. Schipper is currently alderman and deputy mayor in the municipality of Hattem. His responsibilities include housing, real estate and spatial development.

‘When I started as alderman in Hattem four years ago, housing construction was already an important part of my portfolio. I enjoy being involved in real estate while at the same time adding something of value to the wider community. Noticing how complicated it is to find a new home on the housing market, I began to wonder: isn’t there another way? From that ambition and that drive, I thought: maybe I should help tackle this problem from within the market’, says Schipper in an interview with Vastgoedmarkt

Schipper’s interest in real estate did not come out of the blue; his father was a contractor and worked for HBG (now construction company BAM). ‘Coincidentally, my father worked at HBG in the same building in which VanWonen is now located, so things have come full circle’, says Schipper. The future development manager grew up in a family where ‘DIY’ was part of the vocabulary. ‘My father used to do everything himself. In 2016 I bought this house and, like my father, I too did a lot of home improvement myself.’ Until six years ago, Schipper lived in his birthplace Zwolle, with his wife and now twelve-year-old daughter. Because they could not find a bigger house with a bigger garden in the capital of Overijssel, they moved to Hattem, five kilometres down the road. Schipper has always been active in this region. He was a member of the Provincial States in Overijssel and worked for the municipality of Kampen in the field of Spatial Planning.

New village
In this last position, Schipper was involved in the preparatory phase for the construction of a brand new village: Reeve, near Kampen. He supervised the project until it was approved by the municipal council; the first houses will be built this year. The preparatory phase was not without its struggles. In 2013, the Council of State annulled the zoning plan for the housing construction. This was just after the financial crisis and objectors argued that there was no need for this plan. Just before the matter was brought before the Council of State, Schipper got another job. Eventually, the political will for the plan was there, and a new zoning plan that fitted in better with the environment could be drawn up quickly.

This experience benefits Schipper in his new position. ‘There is all this talk about building a hundred thousand houses per year, but as we all see, it is not happening. The task will only get bigger with the influx of refugees and the cabinet’s intention to help the homeless with more accommodation.’ 

Different interests
Why does it take so long to build homes? On the one hand, the alderman says, it is because of the organisation within municipalities. On the other hand, he believes it simply has to do with different interests. ‘The price, for example. Market players always require a profitable business case, while municipalities want affordable and accessible housing. If you can talk to each other and align those interests, the sweet and the bitter can be balanced a bit better. You could, for example, divide the sweetness and bitterness over several projects, making one more affordable and the other more expensive. That way you can enter into a durable relationship with each other and you don’t have to score on one project’, says Schipper. As far as Schipper is concerned, developers could also take the position of the alderman more into account. As an alderman, I may want all kinds of things, but of course I also have a municipal council that makes the final decisions. It is this area of tension that needs to be understood; it is important to know how these processes work internally within a municipality. You can keep pushing the alderman to achieve results more quickly, but in the end he may need something else from the developer.’

Delivering quality
Despite everything, Schipper believes it is possible to accelerate the construction of housing. ‘If, as a developer, you deliver quality and develop exciting projects, I think there will be more acceptance and support. In the region, but also in politics. I also think you need to develop at the right locations. The cabinet’s recent plans regarding nitrogen show that in the coming years it will be very difficult to accelerate the process in and around the Veluwe. But in other locations it will be perfectly possible. You will need to develop smart plans for these locations, together with the municipality’, says Schipper. In order to realise the housing ambitions, he believes it is also necessary to build on expansion locations. ‘I think inner-city transformation is great, but at some point there will be no locations left. Besides, it is not the answer to affordable and accessible housing. In my opinion, municipalities should have the courage to designate new locations for new area developments.’

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