MAASTRICHT. There are dozens of, mainly foreign, students who cannot find a suitable room in Maastricht. True, there is not a lot on offer, certainly not in the city centre. Belgium? Rather not, too much administrative red tape, they say. Stayokay, the hostel on the Maasboulevard, is doing well due to this student accommodation shortage: students have booked more than 60 per cent of the 200 beds. Others stay with friends and sleep on the sofa. Or in a tent, if necessary.
Maastricht Housing, the provider of student housing, has hardly anything on offer at the moment. According to employee Marion Hendriks, there are only about 30 to 40 rooms and around 15 studios available. And that is mainly private. At the Guesthouse, for exchange and master’s students from Maastricht University, all 774 beds are taken.
Karin van der Ven, owner of service bureau Jules Maastricht, sees them every day: students who are looking for accommodation. “There is a lot of demand and very little supply. If I had an empty student house now, I could fill it in no time.” But students have become more critical, want to preferably live in the city centre, Hendriks and Van der Ven have noticed. The latter: “A couple of years ago, people were satisfied with a room across the border. Now they would rather wait until something better comes along.” Hendriks: “Especially the short-stay students want to enjoy the city to the full.”
A room in the city centre with your own kitchen and bathroom that doesn’t cost much: according to Luc van den Akker from the UM Scholarship Office, that is what many foreign students expect, certainly the non-Europeans who are used to different prices. “I see students who often belong to the well-to-do classes in their own country. They have certain expectations. They turn down a space where they have to share a bedroom. And not because they don’t want to share, but because they don’t want to pay ‘so much’ money for a room they have to share. They would then rather – almost for free – sleep on a friend’s sofa.”
It is a trend that Marion Hendriks welcomes. “Maybe there are students who have spare beds and are willing to offer those beds to fellow-students for a couple of weeks? At the same time, I do realise that this is not always simple, landlords are not always happy with this.”
Landlords have become stricter, pickier too. Hendriks is aware that they would rather offer their room to a ‘full-time’ bachelor’s student than to someone who is here to study for just three or four months. Then their income is secure. “Moreover, some only want first-year students, others absolutely not, or they rent to only women or only men. Or they prefer German students, because they find them more serious.” Students who have not found something suitable, for the time being sleep on friends’ couches, in the Botel or the Stayokay. A bed in a room for six people in the hostel, including breakfast, costs €20 per night during the week.
What is the reason that more than a hundred students are ‘homeless’? Van der Ven from Jules Maastricht: “Of course some have not being paying attention, realising too late that they need a room, but there are those who have just heard that they have been accepted to a study programme.” The number of students who arrive at the Guesthouse desk with their suitcases and expect to just be given a key, dumbfounds Hendriks.
A Hungarian student who spent four years studying in Groningen wants to start the Maastricht master’s of Neuropsychology and who has been staying at the Stayokay for two weeks now, is one of the unlucky ones. Her former university in Groningen submitted the necessary papers late and Maastricht University hasn’t processed them yet. So, no official registration: “I have seen a room, the tenancy agreement has almost been completed, but I cannot take up residency because I don’t have proof of registration." Her room is on hold, but she doesn’t know for how long more.
A Portuguese PhD student, who has been staying at the hostel for five days, shakes his head ‘no’ to Belgium. “I want to avoid the bureaucracy.” He has been working in Maastricht for two years already, but just before the summer he cancelled his apartment. “I want something cheaper, a room for a maximum of €350. Halfway through August I started to look, to no avail.”
Cyrill Otteni, a German master’s student of European Studies has experienced practically all possible solutions: a fellow-student’s sofa, camping, and a hostel. Since yesterday, he has his own room on Frankenstraat via Jules Maastricht. When he started his search from Germany during the summer – mainly through all kinds of Facebook groups – he noticed the limitations. “I couldn’t come to Maastricht to ‘quickly’ look at a room or talk to someone. When I suggested Skype, my request was soon denied.”
Otteni came to Maastricht for the faculty introduction two weeks ago. When he asked his fellow-students whether anyone had a bed for him, it went quiet. “Couchsurfing didn’t provide any options either. I had my tent and sleeping bag with me, so I went to the nearest campsite. For two days, because it is not easy with all the literature that you have to read. Nights in the hostel and a place to sleep with a fellow-student followed.
It is the same for the Sudanese Lukudu William, who started the master’s of Globalisation and Development Studies with a grant from Civil Society Leadership Award (CSLA). He hasn’t had an easy time in Maastricht and he is frustrated and sad. “I studied in the US, I have never experienced this before.” Since his arrival at the end of August, he has been ‘drifting’ back and forth. And it is not that no one will help: the Scholarship Office wants to help, just like Maastricht Housing that recently gave him a temporary roof over his head. Housing is not included in the ‘scholarship package’; the scholarship students must take care of that themselves. Lukudu knew about this; he read that he could register online with Maastricht Housing. “But it is very difficult if you live far away and you have to arrange everything online, deal with registration fees, et cetera.” He did not manage to do so. He says that he is not too fussy: “I want to spend between €300 and €450. Sharing a bathroom and kitchen doesn’t bother me.” He is sleeping on the floor of an Ethiopian friend for the moment.
The arrival of the Student Hotel in the Eiffel building, a student campus in the Carré building with 143 independent apartments and a campus in the Bonnefantencollege will make a change to what is on offer for students. The Student Hotel is planned for 2016; it is said to be 350 rooms. Rates will be €600 a month, including service (launderette, study spaces, lounge room, 24-hour security, Wi-Fi and bicycle rental). There is, however, opposition too. From the Maastrichtse Volkspartij, for example, which is worried about the formula. This political party reckons that it is “just an ordinary hotel” and this means “the end of approximately half of the Maastricht – smaller – hotels”. Reference is made to the branch of the Student Hotel in among others Rotterdam and De Hague, where “in fact hardly any students stay”. Questions from the Maastrichtse Volkspartij to the city council have not yet been answered.
Besides Maastricht Housing and Jules Maastricht, the Stichting Studenten Huisvesting operates in Maastricht too. There are also commercial companies that offer rooms and apartments. Another option is the www.housinganywhere.com website, where students offer their rooms for temporary letting.