Photographer:Fotograaf: Loraine Bodewes
MAASTRICHT. The measure introduced by the Maastricht city council to only allow a maximum of 120 new rooms annually, the so-called 40-40-40 rule, has put the brakes on the proliferation of student housing. Other rules, such as the requirement of bicycle parking facilities and a shed for rubbish bags, have had much less effect. An evaluation report has been published regarding the property division policy, introduced in 2016. There is a considerable conflict of opinions. Where the students detest the measures for being too strict, neighbourhoods believe they should be even stricter.
A university city like Maastricht needs clear rules on the conversion of houses into student rooms or independent studios. In addition, no difference should be made between the various neighbourhoods: the same should apply to everyone. This was the underlying thought for the city council to introduce its new policy in 2016. Moreover, something had to be done, because the quality of living conditions was under pressure in some areas. Residents constantly complained about rubbish on the streets, wrongly parked bicycles and noise disturbance.
But which policy measures have really had effect on the proliferation of student houses, disturbance and unlawfulness? And what are the thoughts of the various parties, such as the university, neighbourhoods, landlords and the Student Council?
In short, the final report on the property division policy 2016-2018 (Eindrapportage woningsplitsingsbeleid 2016-2018), which has just been published, shows that the 40-40-40 rule (a maximum addition of 120 rooms in the whole city per year) works best. Large-scale campus-like locations such as Annadal and housing corporation buildings are excluded, because those are not part of the private sector.
Where neighbourhoods are enthusiastic about this maximum, the university, the Maastricht Student Council and the landlords feel it is too strict. Demand is after all only increasing, because the university is steadily growing, they say. With the result that students are being ripped off and find themselves living in rooms that are unsuitable and too small.
The fact that on top of this measures are also being taken to restrict the number of student buildings per street, gives the students the feeling that they are not welcome, the Student Council feels. Besides, they suggest that a street with fifty student buildings can produce just as much disturbance as a street with only one. The city council states that in neighbourhoods surrounding the city centre only up to 20 per cent of the houses in one street may be allocated to students. For neighbourhoods on the outskirts, such as Heer and Limmel, this is 10 per cent. There is no maximum in the city centre. And that is a missed opportunity; say the neighbourhoods and in particular the Jekerkwartier residents association. They would like to see a maximum percentage in the city as well.
The property division policy will be given its final form in the so-called facet zoning plan at the beginning of 2019. Then it will be clear which criteria will and will not apply. Moreover, an end will come to the transition ruling for property owners who have been renting rooms to students for years, but who have had to report to the city council for legalisation – in order to meet the requirement of the property division policy just like new applicants. The 40-40-40 rule doesn't apply to them, nor does the percentage of student houses in one street. They do have to meet quality requirements, such as bicycle parking facilities either within the house or in the garden and storage for rubbish bags.
The problem now is that many ‘illegal’ property owners have not reported to the city council. All parties want to know if those buildings will be shut down when there is a zoning plan. Will students end up on the streets? Would it not be fair to write to the owners again, the landlords and the Student Council suggest. No, says Buurtbalans. They have known about this for a long time. Still, the residents don't want the students to end up on the streets either: take gradual steps, take on the illegal buildings one by one and make sure there is sufficient alternative housing.