Expert article

ICCARus (Gent knapt op) - Improving housing Conditions for CAptive Residents in Ghent Ghent, Belgium Housing

Edit 23 March 2020 by Martha Giannakopoulou UIA Expert


Mobile info point
Short description
Gent, a city of 260,000 inhabitants just outside of Brussels, Belgium, is like many cities: it faces the problem of not enough affordable and quality housing for its lower income citizens.

While 10% of Gent’s housing stock is dedicated to social housing –significantly more than the regional average of 6% and comprised of a total of 14,347 social rental dwellings – it still remains too low to cover citizens’ needs. Citizens on social housing waiting lists may wait 3 to 10 years for housing. 
To address this problem, Gent created a mortgage plan to give the opportunity for lower income and vulnerable citizens to acquire a property, thus allowing many to own their own house. However, many of these citizens are not able to afford renovation, and therefore have poor quality and unhealthy homes. Gent has approximately 35,000 housing units in substandard conditions in need of urgent upgrade.

Gent Knapt Op, which means “Revitalizing Gent”, taps into that need of property owners, named 'captive residents', who have a low income and went through great lengths to buy a home but then did not have the means to renovate. Most of these residents live in poverty and in homes in poor condition, resulting in unhealthy spaces that can negatively influence health, well-being, self-esteem etc. 

Mark: “We barely managed to buy food and pay off our mortgage. However, when the roof window shattered, a cold wind was blowing through the nursery. The family was powerless. The bath tub leaked through to the kitchen.” Stephanie: “The Public Centre for Social Welfare eventually put us in touch with Bart from the ‘Gent Knapt Op’ project. They now pay for our renovation. I finally see a future for my children again.”  Stephanie and Mark, one of the 100 Gent families who are supported by Gent Knapt Op.

House selected for renovation

In a few words

The Gent Knapt Op pilot project focuses on the renovation of existing substandard homes of vulnerable homeowners. The project aims to renovate 100 homes and will award 30,000 Euros per house for renovation works. If the homeowners sell the house in the future, they will have to reimburse these funds so that the City of Gent can invest in other families. The project addresses a complex web of issues from an innovative angle by creating a ‘recurring fund’ to introduce a new financial model that is mutually beneficial to the City of Gent and the target homeowners, testing a new sustainable housing model.


Gent Knapt Op addresses the issue of affordable housing in a holistic way, not only supporting residents to bring their housing up to standard, but also enabling active citizenship, inclusion and longer-term sustainability. This is also reflected by the networks of organisations involved ranging from the housing department, social welfare, community work and poverty organisations.


  • Providing dignified and healthy housing
  • Creating a sustainable financial housing model
  • Increasing living comfort
  • Strengthening ownership
  • Enhancing community cohesion and neighbourhood inclusion
  • Reducing neighbourhood gentrification
  • Contributing to the Flemish climate objectives


Neighborhood participation


Info event


The first phase of the Gent Knap Op project focused on four areas of the city to disseminate information about the project and find potential ‘captive residents’. All of the target areas are densely populated urban neighbourhoods with many social housing units. The first phase was limited to four neighbourhoods: Dampoort, Muide-Meulestede, BrugsePoort and Rabot.

Neighbourhood participation and communication area at the forefront of Gent Knap Op as it depends on the willingness of residents to take part. Since the beginning of May 2019, Gent Knap Op has been travelling from neighbourhood to neighbourhood to spread the word and engage citizens to renovate and take part. The project developed set of communication tools in order to encourage meaningful exchanges and two-way communication with and between urban neighbourhoods. In particular:

Kick off
Introducing  Gent Knap Op to  partners and collaborators

A kick-off event of the project was organised in the cultural centre in Meulestede, one of the first target areas. Project and sponsors were presented to the neighbourhood and a testimony was given by one of the participants in the pilot project.

Poster placed in Community hall

Posters were hung in key neighbourhood spots such as shops, pharmacies, restaurants, hairdressers, bakeries etc. A communication toolkit and technical information were distributed door to door to every house in the target neighbourhood in order to disseminate information about the project.

Are you over 55 years old and want to have your home renovated but lack the financial means? If this is the case, the ‘Gent Knapt Op’ project may offer a solution. Within the scope of this project, you can receive up to €30,000 for necessary alterations, and you only have to reimburse this amount when you sell your home. You furthermore receive free assistance and advice.

  • Text from an advertisement for Gent Knap Op

Banners where put up in the different neighbourhoods, displaying information about the project. In addition to that, advertisements were made in local magazines: the project ran an advertisement in the local magazines (Uit in je Buurt) informing about the project and announcing the info events.

Banner placed in Dampoort
Banner placed in  Brugse Poort
Banner placed in Muide

Social media campaign and video: social media messages (a short movie about the project) were issued in local Facebook groups. The short movie was also shown in the local social welfare centers. A website was created for interested residents to learn more about the project.


Mobile info point custom made for the Gent Knap Op


A bicycle was transformed into a mobile info point, travelled around the selected areas and parked in specific points of the neighbourhood that people meet often, such as markets, etc. and at specific times such neighbourhood gatherings and events that were published locally and digitally in order to inform and reach out to local residents. One larger event was held per neighbourhood.


Guiding residents


info moment
Guiding residents


Speaking to residents

Social workers from the non-profit organisations Samenlevingsopbouw and Sivi are the ''boots on ground'' of the project have been the key contact and informants of the projects. Everyone knows them, and residents particularly trust Bart, one of Sivi’s social workers. 

Gent Knapt Op aims to guide the participants through each milestone of the project with a personal social worker allocated to each potential candidate. The role of the social worker is important throughout the lifecycle of the project, as they guide and assist vulnerable candidates through the whole process from the start till the end. Establishing this trusting relationship between the candidate, the project and the municipality is essential.

“The project focuses on people who have had many setbacks or who live in poverty. Filling in the right documents at the right time on their own is very difficult in such a situation. We look after the house together, but the Public Centre for Social Welfare also addresses other problems, such as the children’s health or debts. Introducing people to others in the neighbourhood is the final step. A social network keeps you out of poverty.

  • Bart Gabriel, Sivi

Currently Gent Knapt Op has signed 25 contracts and is ready to start renovating!

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