There is sufficient support among sex workers for an experiment to set up a window prostitution business under their own management, operating 15 window brothels in four buildings, supported by welfare organisation HVO-Querido. The City of Amsterdam will not own the buildings and will not be involved in running the business. The establishment of a prostitution business managed by prostitutes themselves will give the sex workers greater independence and control over their working conditions, boost their entrepreneurial skills, and also help to combat abuses in the sex work industry.

A consortium of socially engaged investors with expertise in real estate is prepared to buy the four buildings from the current owner in order to rent them out to the foundation. The prospective purchasers have considered not only the financial returns but also the social benefits of Project Own Window.

The College of Mayor and Alderpersons' proposal will be debated by the City Council’s General Affairs committee on 3 December 2015. If the council approves the feasibility study, the sale of the premises at Boomsteeg 1 and Oudezijds Achterburgwal 17, 19 and 27 will proceed. As with all transactions in the 1012 postal area, the prospective purchasers will be screened by the city of Amsterdam.

Renovation work on the properties can then begin. It is expected that the first three buildings will be ready to open by mid-2016. Oudezijds Achterburgwal 27 will open later as the foundations are in need of repair. Fifteen window brothels are to open for business in the four renovated buildings, rather than the 17 windows at present. This will allow for larger rooms and improved workspaces.

No public role in the foundation

The premises will be rented out by a specially established foundation. The majority of the board members will be sex workers, supported by non-sex workers with relevant knowledge and experience. There will also be a supervisory board to oversee proceedings and provide advice. HVO-Querido has agreed to guide and support the sex workers in setting up and running the business for a period of at least two years.

The City of Amsterdam will not own the buildings, it will have no role either in operating the business or in governing or supervising the foundation, and it will make no financial contribution. In terms of licensing, inspection and regulatory enforcement, the City of Amsterdam will treat the new prostitution business in exactly the same way as others in the city.

Risks

The feasibility study also assessed the risks of setting up a new prostitution business managed by sex workers. The study found that control measures are needed to manage the possible risks. For example, provisions have been put in place so that if Project Own Window faces early closure, funds are available to contribute to the redevelopment of the buildings in order to provide them with other functions, such as retail or residential.

About the feasibility study

On 5 February 2015, the College of Mayor and Alderpersons announced that it would commission a study on the feasibility of a prostitution business run by sex workers themselves. At that point, five buildings had already been selected which could be used for the experiment, and contact had been made with HVO-Querido, which agreed to support sex workers in managing the organisation and avoiding potential risks. Continuing work on the project over the past months has included an investigation into the feasibility of operating such a business profitably, an assessment of the financial, societal and legal risks, and explorations to find a party willing to participate in the project by purchasing the buildings and renting them out at a market rate to the sex workers’ foundation.

Social benefits

Amsterdam’s prostitution policy aims to make the city’s sex work industry clean and safe, and to give sex workers greater independence. This includes helping to improve the situation for sex workers by unconventional means, as with Project Own Window. The project brings the long-cherished desire of many sex workers closer to realisation. At the same time it contributes to the City of Amsterdam’s policy aims, such as increasing sex workers’ independence and autonomy, and reducing the risk of abuses.

The advent of a prostitution business managed by sex workers, combined with the continuing regulation of the profession, may make it easier for sex workers to obtain a loan, mortgage or pension, or to take out insurance. 

The City Council’s General Affairs committee will discuss the feasibility study on Thursday, 3 December 2015. If the council approves the proposal, it will be up to the sex workers to take advantage of this unique opportunity, in collaboration with HVO-Querido. If the experiment is a success, Project Own Window may bring about a substantial improvement in Amsterdam’s sex work industry. In any case the project will yield valuable information and insights.