“The university knows how many students are coming, don’t they?”

“The university knows how many students are coming, don’t they?”

Rooms shortage in Maastricht

15-09-2021

Maastricht has a huge shortage of rooms, just like other Dutch university cities. Students just don’t know where to turn anymore, judging by the many messages on Facebook. City council member Alexander Lurvink (from the one-man fraction Groep Lurvink) says that he has received more than four hundred messages from students ‘in dire straits’. The city has meanwhile arranged reduced long-stay rates with hotels; in addition, there are talks about temporary accommodation locations.

At the end of August, Maurice Evers, head of Maastricht Housing sounded reassuring in Observant: there was indeed a peak on the student rooms market, as is often the case in August and September, but at the end of this month, the majority of those looking for a room were expected to have found a place.
That turned out to be a major miscalculation. “The peak is holding strong,” Evers is now saying. “Everything is full,” from apartments, studios and the Student Hotel to XIOR complexes, private student houses and housing corporation buildings. In Randwyck too, there is not a single ‘prefab container home’ to be had, says Evers.

Yes, there are still some apartments, but those are often very expensive. On homes platform Pararius, only four of the 93 homes for rent (Tuesday 14 September) were cheaper than 500 euro. On Maastricht Housing, the official mediator site for the UM, there are also only four under that price, in Simpelveld, a village near Heerlen.
Evers: “Our message to students who are still looking for a room is that they must take into consideration that finding a room will take at least a month and that they must look outside the city.”

Iceberg

There are no exact figures for the number of students searching for a place to live, but instead of the ‘usual’ two or three hundred, city council member Alexander Lurvink thinks there are at least four or five hundred. He bases himself on the number of students and employees who have e-mailed him after his recent appeal on Facebook to inform him of their hellish search for accommodation. “And this is only the tip of the iceberg,” he reckons.

Why does it continue to remain so busy on the student housing market? It is a combination of factors, says Evers. Not only are first-year students searching for accommodation at the moment, but also second-year students. The latter, because of COVID-19 and online education, remained at home with parents the past few months, but now want to leave the nest after all. “We expected that some first-year students would take a gap year, but there appear to be few who do so.” Secondly: the city did not manage to ‘supply’ the agreed 485 rooms as a response to the university’s growth. There were two hundred, at the most. “We anticipated by putting six-hundred empty rooms in the Guesthouse up for rent – after all, there are hardly any exchange students. But those are now full too.” Thirdly: graduates are holding on to their student rooms because of the wretched housing market for newcomers. Moving up on the housing ladder has become blocked. Fourthly: a lot of students from universities of applied sciences have also taken to living in digs. “We didn’t take that into consideration in our forecasts.”

Reputation

The crisis is not good for the city’s and Maastricht University’s reputation. Students share their disbelief on social media – they hold the university responsible. One student who was given the advice to look “outside Maastricht”, had the impression that the UM “couldn’t care less. They have no intention of doing anything about it.” Another agrees with her: “It is irresponsible behaviour. Should the university and the city not do everything to ensure that there is sufficient housing?”

Second-year law student Derek Paing (from Myanmar), student member of the faculty council, also brought up the problem during the council meeting, last Wednesday. What if students can’t find a room? If, through pure desperation they return home? May they still attend the tutorial group remotely? (No, because only students with COVID-19-related ‘problems’ such as a poor immune system or travel restrictions, are accepted exceptions.) “What is the university’s role, surely they know how many students are coming?” he says.

On the sofa

Paing shares stories from fellow students who are sleeping on a friend’s sofa, from someone who lives in Vaals, near Aachen, “but then, if he misses the last bus, he has to spend the night on the street,” he says in a conversation with Observant. “Living in Vaals is not handy when the rest of your student life is in Maastricht.” He also knows students who either stayed in the student hotel or with XIOR last year and now have to find something else, because their one-year contract has expired. “Another friend is staying in a hotel in Randwyck and is spending a fortune. Moreover, he can’t cook in his room. He buys his food in the city.” Another one has returned to Vienna, where he is from. With the consequence that he will miss out on this tutorial group meetings.

Responsibility

Evers says that student housing is “a shared responsibility of the students, the university and the city. But the university is not a party to organise housing, we don’t manage buildings, except the Guesthouse for exchange students. What we can do, is urge the city to ensure there are sufficient rooms. What we can see now is that the numbers that we agreed on a few years ago – an additional 485 rooms every year – are no longer relevant. That will have to be a lot more if we want to keep up with the university’s growth, at least a thousand each year.” By the way, Evers is not passing this on to the city, because “they in turn are dependent on contractors, project developers, et cetera.”

Council member Alexander Lurvink, on the other hand, does use the term “mismanagement” by the city. “We should be proud of this growing university, a world-class institute.” But new students and employees are now being driven away, he thinks. “The city is much too conservative in its policies. They are afraid that the university is growing too much, at the expense of the local population. That is why they have a restricted housing policy with a quota, spreading the students out, controlled growth, et cetera.” He thinks that the rooms shortage crisis is not a temporary issue, but a “structural problem”. Lurvink is therefore in favour of a student housing corporation with the university as a participant. and building more large-scale campuses.

Reductions

Students blame the UM and the city. But are they also partly at fault? Have they started looking for a room too late? Paing doesn’t think so. “I started looking at the end of June, but only found a room at the end of August. I was turned down more than ten times.” Evers also knows from the data from Kences, the branch organisation for providers of social student housing, that the search takes about three months. “That is relatively long. If you only arrive in August, it can become complicated. But some can’t do anything else, for example if they have to wait on approval of their visa.”

In the short term, the city is trying to make the best of it. There are reductions offered for Maastricht hotels, so that students pay a reduced tariff for a long stay. Evers: “This still means paying 600 euro per month in some cases, but it is better to have something than nothing for the time being.” In addition, Maastricht is negotiating with the city of Valkenburg to include hotels in that area. The city is also looking at temporary locations to live. “Those negotiations are ongoing.”

Alexander Lurvink is organising an informal online city debate on the theme with colleagues from the city council, responsible alderman Vivianne Heijnen and council members from the University Council on Wednesday 15 September at 19hrs.

Author: Wendy Degens

Illustration: Simone Golob

Categories: News, news_top
Tags: studenthousing,student & city,shortage,rooms

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