Eindhoven is growing fast economically, and with that there are also concerns about a growing gap between rich and poor. For years, city council members have voiced their concerns. Yet administrators at city hall do not know whether the city’s growth is also leading to division.
Eindhoven must not become a city only for the rich. “We should not follow San Francisco”, Mayor Jeroen Dijsselbloem said during a New Year’s speech. Silicon Valley became an unaffordable place due to prosperity. This specter is causing the municipality, in cooperation with Brainport, to appear to be making every effort to include the underclass in its prosperity.
According to Saskia Lammers, who has been poverty Alderman since last summer, Eindhoven is following the national trend and Brainport’s success is not necessarily affecting the city’s dichotomy. “Though it may feel different”, she says, “because here you hear a lot more things like: ‘your neighbour can work at ASML and has a very good salary’. Then you think: what’s happening there! When you’re in a neighbourhood and every day you see someone else’s success that you don’t experience yourself, that creates a sense of inequality”.
Still, Lammers cannot deny that a rapidly growing city has additional challenges. “We are a big city and then you know that some issues are a part of it. Like dichotomy, in other words”.
That the rapid growth of Brainport companies is contributing to a growing gap between rich and poor is indeed an issue, according to city envoy Janneke van Kessel. She was hired to precisely make the connection between businesses and residents. Van Kessel: “This growth is of course extreme for a city like Eindhoven, which used to be quite small. That really does put pressure on the social environment. On the one hand people can no longer pay their bills and on the other hand you have this huge economic engine”.
According to Van Kessel, the arrival of all those employees of tech giant ASML, for example, to this area is causing problems in the housing market. “You naturally get a bit of a fear: there are a lot of people coming this way, won’t they take up our homes when there are already so few? That sentiment is new actually, it wasn’t like that before”.
On the political agenda for four years
That the region is under pressure was already known four years ago. Back then, the Rabobank published a research report on broad welfare, and the looming gap between rich and poor. In Eindhoven, the report said, a number of things were not yet sufficiently in order. People were relatively dissatisfied with their lives and housing situation. High rental and purchase prices were cited as a problem. In 2019, incomes in the region were, on average, lower than in the rest of the Netherlands, and within Brainport relatively few people followed education or training to improve their skills. The latter was extra remarkable especially because Brainport is a knowledge region, the researchers said.
The results of the survey prompted the municipality to take action. Three years later, in mid-2022, two city envoys were hired to work on the gap and cooperation between the municipality, business and educational institutions.
Brainport’s attraction to high-income people is squeezing low-income people in the city, Janneke van Kessel notes. “At first it was always a huge hallelujah story about the Brainport Region and now that image is starting to turn a little bit: is all going well? What kind of pressure is the growth putting on the social facilities in the city and does it all go together?”
Figures gap missing
The amount of poor people in a city is one of the gauges to determine how big the gap in prosperity is between rich and poor, but current figures on how things are going are lacking. CBS figures from 2019 show hardly any difference between Eindhoven and the rest of the Netherlands when it comes to wealth and income inequality.
The figures of energy poverty of the NOS (Dutch broadcasting corporation) from September 2022 do show a difference with the rest of the Netherlands. In the Netherlands then, the percentage of households suffering from energy poverty was about 7 per cent. In Eindhoven, it is about 9 per cent. That comes down to over 21,000 people in Eindhoven who have difficulty paying their energy bills. High energy prices are causing a substantial influx to the food banks. Whether the region’s rapidly growing economy is also affecting that poverty, there’s no telling as yet.
“We see that people are having a harder time”, Saskia Lammers informs. “We try to get figures from the state and from our own indicators that we have. And we try to get the stories, because sometimes a figure is also not the same as what happens in a family or household”.
No visible increase in people in debt
Tamara Renders is poverty reduction developer at WIJEindhoven. In 2022, she sees no hard increase in requests for help that could indicate that there is a widening gap between rich and poor people in Eindhoven. “We do see a slight increase, but we can’t solidify it in numbers. Nor can we pinpoint whether it is due to the energy crisis, inflation or the growth of Brainport”.
Still, there are voices indicating that something is going on. Renders: “We hear more and more people concerned and worried about it, but we don’t see it yet in the increase in debt assistance. That is also logical actually, because it could take years. It’s hard to measure and you know: people don’t talk easily about money. They could be having a really hard time now, but only really say or express it in a couple of years after patching up many holes”.
The role of Brainport
Really good insight into the city’s dichotomy is proving difficult. And, “numbers are just numbers”, Saskia Lammers says. “I can’t see what is going on behind the front door of 240,000 people”. Still, especially in an affluent area like the Brainport Region, not so many people should be left behind, Lammers agrees.
Although she does not see Brainport’s success as a direct culprit, she believes that the region’s companies should take responsibility for social challenges. “You do want more to happen and more joint responsibility to be felt”. The rapidly growing city brings challenges, but the Alderman sees opportunities above all: “You can see it as a problem or you can start to see it as an opportunity and that we want to take up that challenge together”.
Van Kessel is sitting down with the Brainport companies to come up with a joint social agenda. “Eindhoven of course has a history with Philips who used to do a lot back in the day and that’s always a bit behind it I think. It’s not that we now expect the companies to adopt the new Philips attitude. They’re not going to do that either, but they do have an interest in social cohesion in the neighbourhood”.
Various initiatives are already underway from regional companies to include low-income people in the prosperity, but it is still too fragmented, according to Van Kessel. “Actually, we are all doing good things, but on a different table. So I really see it as the job of the city envoy to combine those forces”.
Many companies are open to doing their part to create an “Eindhoven for all”, as Mayor Dijsselbloem calls it. Both Van Kessel and Lammers especially see many opportunities in the challenges facing Eindhoven. That does not alter the fact that everything can stay the same in a growing city, according to Brainport partner fund chairman Staf Depla. “When a city grows, it just changes. Eindhoven is a city where people were always coming from outside. But what matters is that you still have the feeling that the city is yours too”.
Translated by: Bob