Keywords Search

36. Buurtbeheerbedrijven – Neighbourhood management companies

36.1. Short description

Neighbourhood management companies (buurtbeheerbedrijven, or “NMCs”) in Amsterdam were an initiative of the housing corporation mere. In 2007, as part of the larger national Community Development Programme (“wijkaanpak”), it was decided that in a selection of so-called “problem areas” – or “aandachtswijken” – large-scale urban renewal projects were to be carried out: in these neighbourhoods, a significant part of the social housing stock was to be demolished and rebuilt or renovated and sold on the private market. At that time, it was expected that it would take 10 years to complete this transformation. Ymere, which owns a large (if not the largest) share of the properties in some of these “problem areas” in Amsterdam, feared that during the renovation period these neighbourhoods would deteriorate even further. Hence, Ymere decided to set up an easily accessible service point in those neighbourhoods, where tenants/residents could go to if they had any questions or problems. These service points – which then came to be referred to as NMCs – were going to perform additional maintenance tasks, on top of the regular maintenance services that were already provided by the municipality or housing corporations in those neighbourhoods, to keep them “clean, intact and safe” and to ensure that the “livability” (leefbaarheid) would not degenerate in these neighbourhoods during their renewal. At the same time, NMCs would address (youth) unemployment in the neighbourhoods, as they would be set up as learning/reintegration companies for residents with a distance from the labour market. The first NMC in Amsterdam opened its doors in 2009 and by now there are five of them in different parts of the city (Oost, Osdorp, Noord, Slotervaart and Landlust).

Four years ago I got a call from a director (of one of the division of Ymere in Amsterdam), and he said to me “I want something in the neighbourhood , we are doing major renovations, and I saw in…” Where had he seen it? Arnhem I think. There they had these NMCs since longer already. “That’s what I want, I want something like that too”. That’s usually how things work with a director. I said: “That’s great Jan.” […] And that’s how the whole idea of NMCs started. It was not entirely new, because it already existed in Arnhem, and in Deventer too they had been working with them before. […] And well, then it became such a success… One director had said he wanted one of those NMCs, and then very quickly four other directors said: “we also want an NMC“

(Project leader, Ymere)

The basic framework of all the NMCs is the same: they all provide maintenance services in areas that are going through urban renewal, in order to keep them “clean, intact, safe” and “livable”, and they all provide learning/reintegration places for persons with a certain distance from the labour market. Generally (although there are exceptions to this as, at this stage, some NMCs are more “advanced” than others), a NMC comprises four disciplines: 1) a technical team (klussenteam) – which carries out technical repairs inside the dwellings (owned by Ymere) in a particular neighbourhood; 2) a neighbourhood team (wijkploeg) – which helps keep the public spaces in that neighbourhood “clean, intact and safe”; 3) caretakers (huismeesters) – who handle social and physical problems in the neighbourhood; and 4) a receptionist (baliemedewerker) – who residents of that neighbourhood turn to for information/filing complaints. All four of these disciplines are (or could be) linked to learning/reintegration programmes for people with a distance from the labour market.

36.2. Conceptions and ways of addressing users

City districts, housing corporations, residents and the unemployed are all users of the NMCs in one way or another. We here focus the on the WILCO target group, i.e. the unemployed.

Initially, the idea was that people would stream in, and then, to activate the people they would first participate in one of those neighbourhood teams, and then if they work well then they can move on to the technical team. And then they can learn a real profession. And then they can get a regular job with us (Ymere). But then it turned out that those people who join a neighbourhood team, well… to put it bluntly, you cannot turn every nickel into a dime. […] So then we thought: hey, maybe the technical teams – which require more skills, and where you go into people’s homes, so you have to have more social skills too – let’s focus those on young people

(Project leader, Ymere)

Today, the technical team in an NMC is composed of a professional – a mentor – and two young apprentices that are following an “all-round service staff” training programme that has been set up by Ymere itself in collaboration with a vocational school. During the apprenticeship the youngsters are paid the minimum wage plus 10 per cent. If they do well during their apprenticeship and if they complete the educational programme, the chances are fairly high that Ymere will hire them on a regular contract, since Ymere – much like many other housing corporations – is often looking to hire more “all-round service staff”.

And those (apprentices) are boys that, well, also have a distance to the labour market, but more in terms of schooling – that dropped out of school. Or that had some problems with the police maybe, and they risk going the wrong way. […] With the apprentices too, it’s difficult. They also get more chances here than in a normal company. And they need that, because, well… you cannot treat them normally. […] And it’s not the target group for that. We all know that… that we need to be more tolerant with them. So that’s what we do. And it works, at least with the technical team it works

(Project leader, NM)

Instead, the neighbourhood teams are composed of a professional – a front man – and between six and ten persons who are receiving social assistance benefits and whom the Municipal Work and Income Service (DWI) is trying to “reactivate”. Neighbourhood teams are not focused on youngsters and participants can be of any age, but they often happen to be in their thirties and forties. The persons that are sent by the DWI to neighbourhood teams in NMCs have a relatively short distance from the labour market too (step 3 on the activation ladder), but while the “users” of the technical team are actually prepared to carry out a profession and often stream into regular employment, the “users” of the neighbourhood teams are prepared to first “get back into the rhythm”. In this case, rather:

It’s social activation you know. If you have been inactive for a long time, then you cannot even imagine that work can also be fun. So it is nice to see, that people, because they are sometimes semi-forced to do something, that they then say: “hey, I have colleagues!” – social contacts. “And I have a purpose to come out of my bed again”. And they discover: “hey, this is actually ok”. And: “I like this”… There were also people that said at some point: “I want to do a horticulturalist course because I want to do something with gardening”… But that’s really per person. Some people think it’s ok as it is, they just want to hang around

(Project leader, Ymere)

Learning/reintegration programmes that are associated to the various disciplines of the NMCs are thus intended to stimulate people with a (relatively short) distance from the labour market. By working in a NMC, people have the opportunity to refresh basic skills – such as being on time, working in a team, etc. – but also to develop specialised skills and acquire new experiences so as to improve their chances on the labour market.

It’s difficult, because they are people that have gone off track for a reason. And that do not work anymore. And have problems… So you have to take your time for this, to make the switch again, and tell them: “work is important, for you, but also for the people around you”. And that’s how we proceed, slowly slowly. […] It’s maybe crude to say, but in the end these people are usually dumped somewhere and they are just told: “do your thing”. […] And it is because we have a different concept here, that we are able to assist them better. Which is why they stay so long also. […] It’s important that we make it a broader experience (than simply collecting litter from the street), that one thinks: “Hey, do I like this? Do I want to continue with this?” And because we have so many different things to do, they usually like it. Not everything of course, but still they say: “yes, I actually do kind of like it here”

(Project leader, NMC)


36.3. Internal organisation and modes of working

Ymere provides most of the funding for all the NMCs, but one of the conditions that was set by Ymere for the establishment of any NMC was that the respective city district be a partner in this kind of venture. Subsequently, arrangements have also been made between all the NMCs and their city districts – the city district gives a certain financial contribution to the NMC so that, in return, it can make use of the neighbourhood team for a certain number of hours. In this way, the city district is basically “hiring” the neighbourhood team to do part of the (simple) maintenance tasks in public spaces (e.g. fixing pavements, collecting rubbish, looking after green areas, etc.). This kind of “exchange” with the city district occurs in all NMCs. However, as the NMCs also look for extra (income-generating) maintenance jobs, they may seal contracts with different types of clients too – depending on their location, in some NMCs the neighbourhood team is able to carry out more “commercial” jobs for private owners/companies than in others.

The housing corporation always supplies the leader/mentor of the technical teams. In contrast, the front men of the neighbourhood teams (and the receptionists, and the caretakers, and the project leaders of the NMCs, for that matter) are supplied by social enterprises that specialise in working with people who have a distance from the labour market. In some NMCs, however, depending also on how the relationship is/has been between the local division of Ymere and the city district, the relationship between the NMC and the city district is closer than in others. Subsequently, in the NMC in Osdorp, for instance, the city district supplies the front man of the neighbourhood team.

We’ve contracted partners that have experience in working with people with a distance to the labour market. And that is a different partner in every neighbourhood , just to make things more confusing. […] Because we as Ymere are the initiators (of the NMC), but we don’t have that much expertise ourselves to work with people who have a distance to the labour market. So what those partners do, they often deliver a project leader, who is there every day, and they take care of the people in those neighbourhood teams. And Ymere sends one of their employees – the guy who normally drives around in a van and comes to fix your tap – that one is now hired by the NMC

(Project leader, Ymere)

In all NMCs, the recruitment of persons that take part in the reintegration programmes linked to the neighbourhood teams goes via the DWI. The recruitment of youngsters that join the technical teams as apprentices, however, may happen through different partners. Although all youngsters that become apprentices in the technical teams are enrolled in an “all-round service staff” training programme, youngsters can be placed in such training programmes through various social enterprises. Depending on which social enterprise is operating in a particular neighbourhood, different NMCs may recruit suitable youngsters for the technical teams via different social enterprises. Similarly, the reintegration or work-experience programmes that are linked to the reception of the NMC and/or to its caretakers can be filled through different kinds of organisations that are trying to get people with a distance to the labour market back to work. The one criterion that is important for the selection of staff – or “users” – in all NMCs is that the learning/ reintegration programmes be filled by people who live in the neighbourhood .

Overall, while all NMCs have the same targets and target groups, the way in which they are internally organised can be somewhat different from one NMC to another:

There is no format, of the practical things I mean. […] It can be different everywhere. The goals are the same everywhere. And the set up, in terms of staff are similar too. But how you handle things, what tasks you do, that’s different… Every neighbourhood is different, so every neighbourhood needs something different.

(Project leader, NMC)

36.4. Interaction with the local welfare system

We explicitly chose not to export them (NCMs) under Ymere’s flag, because we also wanted other housing corporations that are operating in those neighbourhoods to join. But also because you are carrying out work for the city district, and if you really put your own stamp on it, then they will also tell you “it’s your thing

(Project leader, Ymere)

In fact, NMCs are constantly trying to get more and more actors involved that are providing some sort of (social) service within their neighbourhoods – be they from the municipality, other housing corporations, social enterprises, welfare organisations or even citizens. However, as yet, NMCs do not try to actually “take over” the functions of these other actors. In this respect, there have perhaps not been any radical changes to the local welfare systems as a result of the establishment of NMCs.

This is Amsterdam. In Arnhem they are much further. Because what we do in Amsterdam are merely additional tasks in the neighbourhood, on top of the regular maintenance (by the municipality). While in Arnhem they said “we are going to do all of the maintenance of public spaces at the NMC”. So there they actually drive around with the sweeping-car, and they collect the rubbish. That’s the fear that people here have, that that is going to happen here too. […] Here you see there is not enough political support for that. And in Arnhem everything is on a smaller scale, you have one municipality. Here in Amsterdam you have a lot more city districts, all with their own political alliances. […] I also think it has to do with culture, in Amsterdam. The people from Amsterdam are of course extremely pig-headed. It’s not an easy people to work with. […] It’s difficult to go up against the established order

(Project leader, Ymere)

As for the services provided by NMCs, these are perhaps not exactly “innovative” services: technical repairmen, “clean, intact and safe” services, and caretakers were already operating in these neighbourhoods long before NMCs were ever created. Likewise, there were already many other organisations/companies offering learning/reintegration places to (young) unemployed persons. As a matter of fact, the whole idea of NMC is perhaps not that “innovative” if we consider that similar companies already existed in other cities of the Netherlands. However, for Amsterdam, the innovative aspect of the NMCs is the way in which they bring different types of services together under one name, in one location, in the neighbourhood, and only for residents of that neighbourhood. In practice, trying to improve the living conditions in certain neighbourhoods while also trying to (re)activate the residents with a distance to the labour market in those neighbourhoods required innovative forms of collaboration between many different actors, including housing corporations, city districts, educational facilities, social enterprises and citizens. In this respect, NMCs have certainly “altered the relationships between actors and organisations in local welfare”.

36.5. Development and dynamics

Since the first NMC started in Amsterdam, the concept has been in constant evolution; in practice, the organisation of NMCs is a continuous learning process. Initially, for instance, the collaboration with city districts was somewhat difficult. NMCs had to find a way not to be perceived as “competitors” by other maintenance service providers that were already carrying out maintenance tasks in the neighbourhood before the NMC appeared.

Often you see that at the management level (in the municipality) the idea (of NCMs) is very much supported, social entrepreneurship is of course a “hot” topic right now, but that at the implementation level, especially in the beginning, it encounters a lot of opposition…then the people from the municipality that normally do the maintenance, of neighbourhoods and streets, they see it as taking the bread out of their mouths. […] We’ve had it that people would come, you know, one of those excursion of managers, and that the day before, they would throw rubbish on the streets on purpose. […] I cannot prove it of course, but I am 99 per cent sure that it is people from the municipal cleaning services that did that. […] They feel threatened. […] They’re scared that if it becomes successful, that they are going to lose their jobs. […] And also internally (at Ymere) I’ve encountered a lot of opposition. […] Everything that is new or experimental encounters opposition in large bureaucratic organisations.

(Project leader, Ymere)

With time, however, actors operating in the neighbourhood understand what an NMC does, and how it is actually meant to assist them in performing their own tasks better. For instance, the cooperation between NMC and housing corporations other than Ymere has gradually strengthened – although here too there is still room for improvement.

Ideally we would have one location where everything is together, all the caretakers (from different housing corporations in the neighbourhood), that we all sit together, and can brainstorm, and work together much faster. But that is not really working in practice, because everybody wants his own image… and that’s a bit difficult. Also in terms of funding. Now for instance, Eigen Haard (another housing corporation) has a very small percentage of houses in this neighbourhood, their caretaker […] holds consultation hours here (in the NMC) twice a week. And she pays for that, a small amount, so she can have a kind of “flash-office” here. And that works. But ideally we would all be sitting here together. Maybe that is something for the future.

(Project leader, NMC)

Yet the future of NMCs is still uncertain. Originally, the idea was that they would stay in the neighbourhoods as long as there were works in progress – the moment the renovation is completed, it should no longer be necessary to perform additional maintenance tasks. Moreover, at the moment, city districts are dealing with significant cutbacks. Because the NMCs seem to be so successful, however, they are currently thinking about how they could continue in case the city districts were to withdraw their funding:

There is money now. When we need something, there are reserves. At the city district, at Ymere, and everywhere really. That’s why this is possible. Because of course it costs money. […] At the moment we do not have to make any profit…at some point, we might have to become independent. But that’s an entirely different perspective. […] Ymere is very much of the kind to want to set up a project with residents, assist them in getting it running, and that then the residents themselves take over at some point. […] But this… you cannot just change this. Then you get something completely different. I used to work for another company, at a facility-point. That’s an option. But then… if all the houses here become owner-occupied and you keep this (NMC) here, then you will start doing maintenance for the homeowners. That’s a completely different market. There you can ask money. […] But then you are really commercial.

(Project leader, NMC)


Content keywords

Keywords: Activation | Activation policies | Case management | Child care | Child education | Citizen initiatives | Citizenship | Civil society | Co-funding | Co-production | Collaboration | Community | Community development | Democracy | Deregulation | Development | Diffusion | Disability | Employment services | Empowerment | Enabling | Entrepreneurialism | Entrepreneurship | European Social Fund | Family caregivers | Family Centres | Family needs | Family-minded | Gentrification | Governance | Grassroots initiatives | Housing corporation | Housing policy | Incubator | Integration | Labour market | Labour market integration | Local context | Local governance | Local governments | Local initiatives | Local welfare | Local welfare system | Lone mothers | Lone parent support | Micro-credit | Municipality | Neighbourhood | Neighbourhood revitalisation | Network | Networking | Participation | Partnerships | Personalising support | Political administrative system | Precarious working conditions | Preschool education | Privatisation | Public administration | Regional government | Segregation | Single mothers | Social and solidarity-based economy (SSE) | Social capital | Social cohesion | Social economy | Social enterprise | Social entrepreneurship | Social housing | Social housing policies | Social inclusion | Social investment | Social media | Subsidiarity | Sustainability | Third sector organisations | Unemployment | Urban gardening | Urban renewal | User choice | Welfare governance | Welfare mixes | Workfare | Young mothers | Youth unemployment

36. Buurtbeheerbedrijven – Neighbourhood management companies


36. Buurtbeheerbedrijven – Neighbourhood management companies