PvdA debate on student housing
MAASTRICHT. A liveability test, better enforcement by the city council, the introduction of a quality mark, the arrival of the International Student Club, and especially ‘open communication’: measures to curb the proliferation of students rooms and the disturbance, as experienced by some inhabitants of Maastricht. The Maastricht Labour Party organised a debate with inhabitants, letters and students at the Stay Okay on Tuesday evening 12 April.
The Maastricht city council has allowed its student housing policy to slide for years, is the almost unanimous view. “It has led to the present excesses,” reacts Dirk Tempelaar, chairman of the neighbourhood platform Brusselsepoort and UM lecturer. The Franquinetstraat is referred to, where more than 60 per cent of the houses are filled with students. An action committee has even been set up: Buurtbalans (Neighbourhood balance).
Living together in a university city, how do you do that? This is the central question posed by the Labour Party this evening. With this meeting, the party is anticipating the evaluation of the present rules for splitting houses and renting rooms during a round of the city council (where civilians may have their say), on Tuesday, 19 April.
Since the summer of 2015, new rules have been in force in Maastricht regarding the splitting of accommodation. Where in some neighbourhoods the ‘no unless’ rule used to apply – which means that letting rooms was only allowed under extraordinary circumstances – there is now no longer a distinction between neighbourhoods. “We fought for years for the ‘no unless’ rule and now everything has been abandoned,” says a civilian council member of the Christian Democratic party CDA and inhabitant of Limmel. Tempelaar: “Where the enforcement of the rules against illegal room splitting used to be strict, all illegality has been legalised in one felled swoop since last year.”
But every district is different and this should be taken into consideration, people say. “While the Rechtstraat is a dynamic street where many students live, the Wolkammersdreef in Belfort is not.” One resident of Belfort sketches a distressing image. Flats are bought up in bulk by foreign (i.e. inaccessible) investors and rented out to students. “Three people to 84 square metres. People who have been living there for years, are afraid. You can’t talk to the students, if only because of the language barrier, most of them are from abroad. It is a sad situation.”
Still, “open communication” it the magic word, reckons Maria Essers from neighbourhood platform Argus (Statenkwartier). Her view is supported: “Make students aware of their behaviour, organise neighbourhood parties, agree to meet each other from time to time.” With student association Koko, whose club is in Sint Maartenspoort, it works perfectly, for example, says Koko chairperson Britt op de Laak.
Karin van de Ven from student service company Jules sees a role for landlords and letting agencies. “We manage a number of buildings and it is true that some students can be difficult neighbours. They live in a completely different world. Set requirement for landlords, agencies or managers with regard to manageability of the building. Make sure there is a 24-hour number that can be called.” Another possible solution: a liveability test to be passed when a permit is applied for and a quality mark. “Such a mark would guarantee more control of aspects such as fire safety,” says Huib van Gastel, chairman of the association of Verhuurders Woonruimtes Maastricht (Accommodation Lessors Maastricht). “If the city council approves a building, it should be maintained. Will the city authorities conduct regular checks? I think that letting agents can do this themselves. The council can carry out random checks. As a letting agent, you can also see to it that there is good contact with the neighbourhood.”
Maastricht University should also take its responsibility, according to participants. Why do they not do more to make students aware of the rules of living in Maastricht, the audience wants to know? “Maybe the UM could be instrumental in teaching skills, so that it is easier for students to make contact with the neighbours, possibly even making it compulsory,” says Knowledge Engineering student Redencio Jozefzoon. Whether the arrival of an International Students Club in the Timmerfabriek resolves the disturbance caused by house parties, remains to be seen, Tempelaar reckons. “It is not in their culture to get together somewhere else.”
After the city round next Tuesday, the Municipal Executive will write a memo containing a proposal for additional policies alongside the new housing rules. The Executive will also consider how to deal with existing illegal cases.