Since 1 October, the occupation of abandoned buildings – squatting – has become illegal in the Netherlands. Still, the students, anarchists, punks, travellers and even families who live in a building called Kraak (Old Hickoryplein) aren’t worried.
Kraak inhabitants Rogerio and Sanjey are students who occupy what once used to be shops amongst a residential neighbourhood which includes a children's school. Inside, it is apparent that a home has been established here. Colourful wall hangings, decent furniture and various plants line a communal living room. Each inhabitant has their own bedroom and shares a fully functioning bathroom and kitchen.
Despite the threat that the students could lose their home there's no panic, says Sanjey. “The municipality, which acknowledges Kraak’s cultural contribution, has announced that it won't prioritise the new law and its implementation may not take place here in Maastricht. There’s also a good discourse going on with the owners of our buildings.”
It seems strange that a law permitting the ‘recycling’ of buildings has been overturned, continues Rogerio. “It’s positive for Dutch cities because squatters restore and rebuild many buildings. If we weren't living here right now this building would be abandoned. The community around us hated the rundown look of it before. There’s a huge amount of social capital in this squat as well, because we offer services for the neighbours, such as workshops on arts, crafts, music and community. Kraak for us is about reusing and recreating spaces to promote activities for people; for example, the community gardens where people can grow their own food.”
Sanjey: “This freedom that I get through not paying rent increases the attention that I can give to projects. The whole mindset and the whole approach to development and the security of social amenities has to change. Now it centres around economic growth and relief for all the social shortcomings we might face. You could argue that paying rent to the owners increases economic growth and therefore the public benefit. But this is not the case, due to the waste of funds in maintaining unused spaces. So Kraak is an example of how things can work in a different way. Kraak’s projects are being realised through sheer will and not because of the economic incentive.”