2018 Communal Elections: Spotlight on Saint-Josse-Ten-Noode

A commune of superlatives

Dynamic places like Madou, Rogier, the Northern Quarter, and the Botanique give Saint-Josse-ten-Noode a big-city feel that somehow reminds you of New York City’s Manhattan. Who would think that this commune is actually the smallest and the poorest in the Brussels-Capital Region?

Place Rogier in Saint-Josse-ten-Noode © Aris Setya

Sandwiched between Brussels City and Schaerbeek, Saint-Josse-ten-Noode occupies only 1.14 square kilometers of land inhabited by 27,115 people. Aside from being the most densely populated commune in Brussels, it also has the youngest population in the entire region. People under 18 years old and working-age adults make up 92 percent of the population, bringing the average age of inhabitants to 34 years old. Although the birth rate in the commune has declined in recent years, it remains the highest in the Brussels region.

In 2017, Saint-Josse-ten-Noode was named the poorest commune in Belgium for producing the lowest average income or 8,690 euros. The figure was more than 50 percent lower than the national average income. At 29 percent, the unemployment rate in the commune is also the highest in Brussels.

More than 43 percent of the Tennoodois are non-Belgians among whom the most represented are the Romanians, Bulgarians, Moroccans, and Turks. Back in the 1990s, foreigners constituted the majority of the commune’s population. As a result, Saint-Josse-ten-Noode has a history of electing politicians of a foreign background. The current mayor, Emir Kir, is himself a Belgian of Turkish roots.

Since the early 1950s, Saint-Josse-ten-Noode has been the territory of socialists. After the 2012 elections, the Socialist Party (PS) formed the majority with the Socialist Party Differently (sp.a) and the Humanist Democratic Center (cdH). Members of the minority came from Ecolo-Groen and the Reformist Movement (MR).

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen of Saint-Josse-ten-Noode
The Board of Mayor and Aldermen of Saint-Josse-ten-Noode

In the last six years, the commune made progress by way of providing free daycare, doubling the number of childcare facilities, producing more social housing, distributing more garbage containers, extending the work hours of street sweepers, and giving out sports vouchers amounting to 250 euros per child. Major urban projects involved the construction of the Maison des cultures et de la cohésion sociale and the acquisition of a building intended for a new communal hall. However, the top leaders of the commune have been criticized for lack of transparency and accused of clientelism.

What lies ahead for Brussels’ most vulnerable commune? Which political party has what it takes to tackle the root of poverty in Saint-Josse-ten-Noode? The Tennoodois will have a big decision to make for this year’s communal elections. Will they vote once more for the PS and sp.a alliance? Or will they cast a ballot for Ecolo-Groen, cdH, MR, or DéFI?

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