‘Without second stayers, many catering establishments in Knokke-Heist would disappear’
Rising house prices are worrying local residents of Knokke-Heist. But many people who keep second-home residents away from the coastal municipality are a step too far. “They also pay taxes.”
‘There is a lot for sale here, but it is expensive. They take advantage of the people a little bit. And it’s on the coast, isn’t it? Claudine Verstraete is out with her daughter in the deserted center of Heist. They both know that house prices in the coastal municipality are very high. But the fact that the municipality of Knokke-Heist wants to put a brake on second-hand residents for that reason is exaggerated. “When we travel, people have to put up with us too,” says daughter Samia Khotta, keeping her dog in check.
Yet the new mayor Piet De Groote is serious. The successor to the recently deceased Leopold Lippens wants to oblige buyers of real estate outside the tourist zone to domicile in their home. He announced this in De Tijd on Saturday. Already 21,000 of the 39,000 homes in Knokke-Heist belong to second residents. Demand has increased further due to the corona crisis. ‘People all want an apartment with a terrace,’ says Stefaan Vanhove, the manager of Immo Tropic on the dike in Heist. Vanhove has just shown a house in the area to a retired baker’s couple. “They were very enthusiastic.”
Exclusive holiday resort
The direct debit requirement would only apply in neighborhoods outside the tourist zone, such as the center of Heist. With Café Terminus, an office of the Bond Moyson and a Zeeman where a Roma bath towel with a full savings card costs 2.49 euros, the center of Heist looks more like an average Flemish neighborhood than an exclusive holiday resort where tourists fight for expensive apartments.
An Antwerp person who has lived in Heist for 16 years is one of the few who lives in an apartment building with many second-home residents. “They put their garbage bags out on Sunday, while the PMD bag is not until Thursday’s turn,” she complains. But her friend, who does beach rentals, opposes it. ‘I don’t want us to keep out second stayers. We have many restaurants in Knokke-Heist. Without second stayers, many catering establishments would disappear. And they also pay taxes. ‘ While the residents of Knokke-Heist are exempt from additional municipal taxes, second residents have to pay 770 euros in municipal tax each year, which they use to finance the local infrastructure.
Second residents are already putting their garbage bags outside on Sunday, while the PMD bag is not until Thursday’s turn.
For the time being, the center of Heist has hardly any second home residents. But the simple center represents a metamorphosis. On the large Maes and Boereboomplein, construction will soon start on a spectacular, colorful tower, including a police station, library and 97 apartments, including penthouses with a breathtaking view. ‘In five years’ time, Heist will be unrecognizable,’ says real estate agent Stefaan Vanhove.
The city council is concerned that ‘people from the interior’ will displace the local residents who can no longer afford the sky-high real estate prices. The average selling price of a home in Knokke-Heist was 564,033 euros last year. In the past five years, prices have risen by 21 percent. ‘The youth can no longer stay here,’ says Marijke, who has just picked up her two grandchildren from Primary School ‘t Schooltje in the rural hamlet of Ramskapelle. ‘My children have also moved. It is no longer payable here. ‘
My children have also moved. It is no longer payable here.
More second-time residents threaten to transform municipalities such as Heist center, Westkapelle and Duinbergen into ghost villages during the week or in the winter, where schools and youth movements are bleeding to death. That is why the municipality has already launched the particularly tidy new Heulebrug district behind the train station in Heist, where neat villas stand next to affordable apartments. For the second project phase, of which all 160 building plots have already been sold, the municipality gave priority to people who have been living or working in Knokke-Heist for some time.
This strategy drew more young people into the neighborhood, which is crucial for the future of the coastal municipality. Knokke-Heist is the second ‘grayest’ municipality in the country after Koksijde. According to 2018 figures, one third of the 33,000 inhabitants is 66 years or older.
More second-time residents threaten to transform municipalities such as Heist center, Westkapelle and Duinbergen into ghost villages during the week or in the winter, where schools and youth movements are bleeding to death.
Today, the municipality mainly attracts pensioners, who often live there. ‘We have been coming to Knokke on holiday for 50 years,’ says Jos, a former teacher from Sint-Katelijne-Waver. First we wanted to rent something here on an annual basis. But that was a costly affair. That is why we moved to Heist in September. ‘
Although he likes his new house in a lively neighborhood, Jos has questions about a possible direct debit requirement. “Is that legally possible?” He asks, locking his bike in front of the AD Delhaize. ‘When you buy a property, you do what you like with it, don’t you? Suppose I want to sell my home and I receive a very interesting offer from someone who wants to use it as a second home. And then the municipality says: that is not possible. That’s annoying. ‘