Amsterdam is to create "scum villages" where nuisance neighbours and anti-social tenants will be exiled from the city and rehoused in caravans or containers with "minimal services" under constant police supervision. Holland's capital already has a special hit squad of municipal officials to identify the worst offenders for a compulsory six month course in how to behave. Social housing problem families or tenants who do not show an improvement or refuse to go to the special units face eviction and homelessness. Eberhard van der Laan, Amsterdam's Labour mayor, has tabled the £810,000 plan to tackle 13,000 complaints of anti-social behaviour every year.
He complained that long-term harassment often leads to law abiding tenants, rather than their nuisance neighbours, being driven out. "This is the world turned upside down," the mayor said at the weekend. The project also involves setting up a special hotline and system for victims to report their problems to the authorities. The new punishment housing camps have been dubbed "scum villages" because the plan echoes a proposal from Geert Wilders, the leader of a populist Dutch Right-wing party, for special units to deal with persistent troublemakers.
"Repeat offenders should be forcibly removed from their neighbourhood and sent to a village for scum," he suggested last year. "Put all the trash together." Whilst denying that the new projects would be punishment camps for "scum", a spokesman for the city mayor stressed that the special residential units would aim to enforce good behaviour. "The aim is not to reward people who behave badly with a new five-room home with a south-facing garden. This is supposed to be a deterrent," he said. The tough approach taken by Mr van der Laan appears to jar with Amsterdam's famous tolerance for prostitution and soft drugs but reflects hardening attitudes to routine anti-social behaviour that falls short of criminality.
There are already several small-scale trial projects in the Netherlands, including in Amsterdam, where 10 shipping container homes have been set aside for persistent offenders, living under 24-hour supervision from social workers and police. Under the new policy, from January next year, victims will no longer have to move to escape their tormentors, who will be moved to the new units. A team of district "harassment directors" have already been appointed to spot signals of problems and to gather reports of nuisance tenants. The policy is not a new one. In the 19th century, troublemakers were moved to special villages in Drenthe and Overijssel outside Amsterdam. The villages were rarely successful, becoming sink estates for the lawless. "We have learned from the past," said the mayor's spokesman. "A neighbourhood can deal with one problem family but if there are more the situation escalates."