“We are in need of dynamics”

Published on: 15 February 2024

The population in the Netherlands is aging. And that has an impact on all kinds of things, such as the housing market, the healthcare system, the economy, the labor market and the pension system. We address these topics in a series of articles based on interviews conducted with an expert and with people who are part of the ‘grey wave’. In this edition: Charles Kalshoven, macro-economist and expert-strategist at APG, on the influence of the ‘grey wave’ on our housing market, and Hetty Leijdekkers (71), who talks about her future living plans.


The number of people in the age range of 20 to 65 is growing, partly due to migration, and has meanwhile risen above 10 million. “All those people have to live somewhere, but where?”, Kalshoven is thinking aloud. The solution, according to him, partly lies in the flow of the ‘grey mass’. “However, that only happens scantily. Why? There are various reasons. A few years back, for example, the decision was made to have less nursing homes. That makes a difference in the healthcare costs. On the other hand, this also means people live in their own homes for longer and the flow on the housing market stalls. My own mother, for instance, has lived in a single-family house in Soest on her own for years. This house could have easily accommodated a family with multiple children.”


The ‘grey mass’ keeps houses occupied that are very well suited for the younger generations. Yet, this is only half the story, as it becomes clear from the words of Kalshoven. “There are many young tenants looking to buy a house, but there are also many elderly living in a house they purchased who would rather rent. That latter group doesn’t take that step because it is complicated and because there are no suitable rental properties available.” It is the classical ‘chicken-and-egg’ situation. “Yet it is very important for the dynamics to return. You could compare it with the world of soccer: if a coach is dismissed somewhere, an entire carousel is triggered. We would like to see the same thing happening on the housing market.”


Project developers and municipalities
Project developers and municipalities play a role in that process, according to Kalshoven. “Municipalities often ask high prices for their land. Project developers want to build on that land in an as profitable way possible. They are mainly interested in houses they can sell straight away. These houses are not necessarily the ones we need in ten- or twenty-years’ time.” He mentions generationally-aware building in that context. “We used to hear that term in the past, but nobody is really talking about that anymore. That’s quite strange as it offers opportunities to realize the proper offering on the housing market. If those elderly form a plug and make the flow come to a standstill, you can pull that plug by creating the right offer. As in: to build.” That could also promote the dynamics between the region and the city. “When you move from a large house in the Randstad to a smaller apartment in the region of less square meters, that also involves less vacuum cleaning and no more lawn to mow. Because such a smaller house in the region is cheaper than your old house, you can also cash in on part of the surplus value. You could therefore say that moving in this situation is a type of pension provision. We have the first pillar (state pension/AOW), the second pillar (supplementary pension) and the third pillar containing, among other things, the assets you accrue with your house.”


The move of elderly people to the region, helps reduce the pressure on the Randstad. But that appears to be more theory than practice. “Many people want to live near their children, as that allows them to play a role in the lives of their grandchildren. And if they become less mobile, the children are around to help them with the groceries. So, that hinders the movements, the flow. They are not keen on leaving the busy Randstad.”

A smaller apartment in the region with less square meters also involves less vacuum cleaning and no more lawn to mow

More long-term thinking
Policy might help. Kalshoven calls upon policymakers to think about the long-term more often. “That is difficult as they have other triggers and are more considering the wishes in the short-term. The politician also wants to be reelected for the next four years. Selling land at top prices enables people to do fun things, such as a new swimming pool, but doesn’t always provide for the houses you need to pull the plug from the market. More flexible rules could also help. For example by making it easier to place prefab care-houses in the backyard. In that case the children will act as caregivers. There are not too many places that actually have that space, but every little bit helps.”


(National) policy could also help to make the region more appealing. “How can that be done? By elevating the level of facilities. And, if necessary, you make less profit or even lose some money, subsidize the project and think further ahead. You have to make choices and try to make a number of areas more appealing to the ‘grey mass’. Zoning plans, for instance, could include that certain hospitality venues and shops are being prioritized.”


Living together in residential community
Kalshoven also sees beautiful initiatives arise here and there, both in the region and in the cities, helping to set the dynamics in motion. “Take the Stadsveteraan 020 for example, a living concept for people aged 55 and over in the city district of Amsterdam-East. The focus here lies on living in a tight residential community. And with good reason. Senior citizens living together in a residential community, are able to live independently for longer. They can rely on one another: from self-reliance to ‘together-reliance’. A great concept as you keep each other active and have social contacts. Contacts you don’t have when you continue to live in a single-family house.”

‘I prefer to rent, no more worries about a leaking gutter’


The population in the Netherlands is aging. And that has an impact on, for example, the housing market, the healthcare system, the economy, the labor market and the pension system. But what does this mean for the people who are part of that aging population? Hetty Leijdekkers (71) talks about her future living plans.


Breda. A dead-end street with terraced houses and across the street some apartment buildings that are largely occupied by elderly people. Hetty Leijdekkers is overlooking those apartment buildings, living in her single-family house for about twenty years. First with her children, currently on her own. And she hopes to continue living there for a long time. Yet, she already has a plan should that no longer be possible. Although she won’t be moving to an apartment across the street.


Arranging proactively
Hetty has a background in district nursing and has worked for many years at the department Social Domain of the municipality of Breda. Hetty: “Being a manager, I used to work on the design and implementation of the Social Support Act. Lifetime living is also part of that Act.” The knowledge and experience gained from her work and private life, ensured Hetty to start working proactively on her future. “I witnessed firsthand, with my own parents, how difficult it is to find a house if you are not registered with a housing association.” They didn’t want to leave the house they lived in for 63 years but had no other choice due to health reasons. They eventually moved to Roosendaal because there was nothing available in Breda in the short-term. But it was hard for them to adapt to a different place of residence. I was lucky enough to be able to buy this house after my divorce. At the same time, I registered for a rental property at the municipality, just as a precaution. In case I am no longer able to stay in this house.”


Less worries
Hetty’s house is not suitable for a person who is no longer mobile. The doors are narrow, the house has doorsteps and it is difficult to enter through the gate at the back using a mobility scooter. Hetty: “I will rent a property when I become immobile. That also means I no longer have to worry about things like leaking gutters.” Renting - social or private - is not a strange option in your old age. Less worries, as Hetty’s words demonstrate. It also facilitates the flow on the housing market.


What is Hetty’s opinion on making room for, for example, starters in the housing market? “I pay about 500 euro for my mortgage and I don’t mind moving to a smaller apartment for a little more money. But an apartment like the ones across the street? The rental price of those is around 1,200 euro per month. That difference is way too big! Moreover, this place has emotional value.”


Alternative housing forms
Alternative housing forms are arising in different places in the Netherlands. Hetty is familiar with these options. “We don’t have Knarrenhofjes (residential community for self-reliant elderly people, ed.) here. I would like to live there should these be available. Very sociable and we can help each other.” Living in the backyard of one of her children? “That’s not realistic. As a district nurse I have seen housing forms with three or four generations. In those families you saw grandpa or grandma looking after the grandchildren or cooking. That is often not the case for residents of a care-house. Moreover, the rules in Breda only allow such houses to remain for a period of ten years. It is a privilege for people with money and space. This is what you mainly see in a villa district or a rural area.”


Return of the retirement home?
Living independently for longer to reduce the healthcare costs; to Hetty that is a too small a plaster on a too large a wound. “It is becoming increasingly more difficult to obtain a care indication and eventually move to a nursing home. Having been a district nurse myself, I often witnessed how things may turn out. People will gradually care for themselves less and less. They only eat sandwiches and are slowly weakening. That means they are at greater risk of falling and in sudden need of care. You cannot let these people live alone for that long. I therefore think it would be good to have a contemporary form of the old-fashioned retirement home. That allows for a more efficient approach to care with more help nearby. That is becoming increasingly more difficult these days with, for instance, community centers closing down. In the past, nursing homes also had room for the district, for people to just come in. But that’s no longer the case. And such social safety net in the neighborhood is necessary if you want people to live independently for a longer period of time.”



  • Name: Hetty Leijdekkers
  • Age: 71 
  • Place of residence: Breda
  • Civil status: Divorced, 2 children
  • Retirement date: December 21, 2017
  • Employers: Radboud UMC, Kruisvereniging Grave, Kruiswerk Lek en Merwede, Municipality Breda