Finance

CFO Profile: Ria Koppen of Haag Wonen

July 3, 2014

"Further savings cannot occur within existing business operations"

CFO workplace survey: what do directors feel about the economy? An interview with Ria Koppen, Director of Operations at Haag Wonen.

"Financially, Haag Wonen is doing well. This is, first of all, of great importance to our tenants. Our cash flows are under control, and we can guarantee the continuity of the company. This despite turbulent times. In recent years, politicians have presented us with a few unpleasant surprises in the form of such measures as the landlord levy, which has had a big impact on our pocket book. In its decision-making, the government seems to focus on the short term. But this is not possible with regard to real estate. The investments that we make have a return on investment lasting from 80 to 100 years.

From 2009 to 2013, Haag Wonen saved 30 percent on its operating expenses. We will save another 25 percent by 2016. And then we will have reached a critical point: further savings cannot be achieved within existing business operations. Any additional reduction in spending will require us to sacrifice essential items such as housing maintenance. Fortunately, this remains unnecessary: we do not skimp on maintenance; in fact, we devoted € 50 million to maintenance of our tenants' homes in 2013.

We now mainly use the money that we have available for investment to improve the existing inventory. For a home that someone rents must be in good condition. Where necessary and possible, new housing is used to serve present and future target groups who otherwise have no chance of finding a place to live.

The EU has indicated that the Dutch government needs to keep an eye on the affordability of housing. Rent decreases are currently unfeasible. Not as long as the government imposes a substantial load on the liquidity of housing corporations by enforcing the landlord levy.

Incidents within the sector are damaging the reputation of housing corporations. At the same time, tenants are generally very positive about their own homes. Haag Wonen recently received a grade of 7.2 from its tenants for its service provision and 7.3 for home maintenance.  The parliamentary committee of inquiry into housing corporations visited us in 2013, precisely because we are an example of a medium-sized corporation in the Randstad that has its property management business in order.

Our tenants also come from the vulnerable sections of society. In these turbulent economic times, those working in poorly performing sectors are facing dismissal. The great value of a social housing provider is precisely demonstrated in turbulent economic waters. Collaborating with social partners in The Hague, we have a proven approach for tenants who can not pay their rent. This prevents them from losing their homes.
The discussions of our management team focus primarily on the implementation of the business plan. It focuses on providing good housing for tenants who have no access to the commercial rental or home-owner real-estate sector, as well as the strategic issues associated with housing them. How do we, for example, ensure that neighborhoods do not become one-sided, now that we can no longer provide housing for middle-income families? Take for example Schilderswijk. We would like to make this neighborhood into a mixture of low and middle income residences, but have more difficulty realizing this aim due to current political policy. We can no longer provide housing for middle-income tenants. For this reason, we are looking to collaborate with parties wishing to invest.

It is precisely by collaborating with tenants, social partners in the neighborhood and other parties that we are able to continue offering attractive and affordable housing."

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