WUR received funding for a study on safe and affordable housing for migrants. The project is a Dutch-Sino collaboration with, among others, Nanjing Agricultural University in China. The project is funded by the Netherlands Research Council (Dutch acronym: NWO) and the National Natural Science Foundation (NSFC) in China.
With this reearch, which has a budget in excess of one and a half million euros, WUR and Nanjing hope to improve the social integration of different groups of migrants in the Netherlands and China. Nico Heerink, professor of Development Economics who heads the research group on the Dutch side, states: ‘Access to adequate, affordable housing is one of the key conditions for social integration. But for migrants to successfully settle in a new and strange environment requires them to use their housing as a basis from which to participate in the community and build a new social network.’
Both the Netherlands and China deal with a massive influx of migrants in urban areas. In the Netherlands, the migrants are mostly holders of residence permits and migrant workers. In China, migrants are almost exclusively domestic. This puts pressure on the housing market. The way migrants are housed has significant implications for their social integration. A poorly managed integration leads to an increased chance of unemployment, segregation and poverty. This may, in turn, cause an increase in crime, addiction, prostitution and discrimination. Consider, for example, the problems in disadvantaged Dutch neighbourhoods, where many residents have a migrant background.
Over the next four years, the Dutch and Chinese researchers will collaborate to study the effects of market dynamics and housing programmes on the way the different migrant groups are housed in both countries.
Magic mix in housing block
In the Netherlands, WUR collaborates with Utrecht University. Researchers from Utrecht study, among others, the so-called Magic Mix innovative housing programme. In this programme, refugees and other vulnerable groups live in the same block as ‘regular’ inhabitants. Heerink: ‘The regular residents support the more vulnerable neighbours and organise activities to foster their involvement in the community. According to the colleagues from Utrecht, the degree of interaction varies strongly per project, depending on how they are set up. No-one ever thought to consult the refugees. For this study, the refugees are interviewed and asked about their experiences. This will then serve as input for suggestions for improvement.’
In China, many inhabitants are excluded from formal urban housing. They end up in informal accommodation such as dormitories in factories and urban villages. Heerink: ‘These locations are poorly maintained; the inhabitants live packed together, and there is hardly any contact with other residential areas. In Shenzhen, the government want to improve these areas and offer the inhabitants rental housing. The idea is to have local governments approach this in different ways, while we, and our Chinese colleagues, study the effects after two to three years.’
Heerink expects the two countries will learn much from the collaboration. ‘China will likely be able to learn from the large housing sector in the Netherlands and housing projects such as “Magic Mix”. The Netherlands, in turn, could learn from recent Chinese initiatives where villages with a declining population can benefit from urban expansion by selling land designated for housing through a system of quotas.’
So far, the Dutch and Chinese housing programmes have been more successful at providing access to affordable accommodation than fostering the social networks of migrants, Heerink admits. ‘We hope our study will enable us to provide concrete suggestions to improve housing programmes and thus facilitate the integration of migrants.’
A total of nine proposals were submitted for the grant by nine different universities in the Netherlands. Besides the WUR proposal, a proposal by the Erasmus University in Rotterdam in collaboration with the Peking University was selected for funding. Their plan was for the development of inclusive cities with sensible waste management.
The research will be conducted in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht and several megacities in China. On the side of WUR, the project is led by the Development Economics Group (DEC) and the Urban Economics Group (UEC). They collaborate with Utrecht University and the Housing Association. WUR has been awarded a 1 million euro grant from the Dutch Research Council (NWO) for the research in the Netherlands. Part of this money is for Utrecht University. The NSFC has awarded the Chinese partners a grant of 5 million RMB, which amounts to approximately 520,000 euros.