Hunky-dory? Nick Bos, vice president of the Executive Board hopes that he didn’t give that impression during the interview on the future Maastricht rooms market. But anyway, from 2023 the outlook is brighter, “that is when we will make the biggest step,” alderman Vivianne Heijnen informs. “By then, there will be large-scale, permanent and affordable housing for students.” For example, on the Duboisdomein. The vacant post office is going to be demolished; new student homes will be built there. Heijnen has another location in mind in the same area, but doesn’t want to say too much about it. “A housing corporation is involved and that is nice; they can make sure that the rent is affordable.” According to Heijnen, there are “great opportunities in Randwyck, but there isn’t a lot of space of course. We are considering going upwards.”
For the time being, the Maastricht rooms market will not be looking great. We still have some 100 to 150 students who are in a difficult situation, Bos estimates. “By that I mean the group that is really having a problem.” Those who trudge from one hotel to another hotel, who stay with friends in their digs, or who have returned home to their parents and now have to drive back and forth for hours to get to the university. So, he is not talking about the group who is forced to live in Heerlen or Valkenburg, or those who feel that the rent for their Maastricht apartment is too high. Bos bases himself on information from the International Service Desk, Maastricht Housing, and SOSMaastricht, a couch-surfing platform that was set up by students and links those who are offering accommodation with those who are seeking it.
Also, 2022 will be “quite a job,” the university manager sighs. Just like this year, the city will again be unable to ‘add’ 485 homes (as was recorded in the homes programme) to the market. The alderman notes that 485 is an average. “We are not going for the gaspful achievement of that number. We are going for good quality housing.”
But what is the solution then for 2022? An ‘overspill location’ for when there is another shortage? “We are certainly looking into that.” Some political parties have mentioned the former Overmaze prison, which is now a temporary day and night shelter for the Salvation Army. Heijnen and Bos both implied that they were also looking at possibilities outside the city.
Anyway, the city and the university have made another forty or so extra rooms available until 1 January, on the Heksenstraat and in Gerlachus residence. Furthermore, students who have ended up in dire situations may follow their education online. Heijnen, regarding the latter: “The university really deserves a compliment for this. They arranged this really quickly and it is a real godsend.” Bos would rather not have made this exception. “It was done reluctantly. The message to the lecturers was now: ‘Go back to working with a (more) hybrid system.’ That is asking quite a lot. Besides, we wanted the students to be physically present as much as possible.” Nevertheless, the UM could do nothing else but listen and act upon the ever louder cries from duped students.
Bos says that he was approached by XIOR, a student housing company that offers student accommodation in Maastricht, but also in Vaals. There are another fifty rooms vacant in Vaals. “It is not the centre of Maastricht, but it is interesting.” In addition, Bos is hopeful that between September and January about a thousand students will graduate. “We base ourselves on historical figures and we surmise that it will not be different this year. Some of the graduates will leave, because they found work elsewhere or move to another housing.” He estimates that there will be sufficient space freed up.
The crisis hasn’t done either the city’s or the UM’s reputation any good. Students stated on social media that the university and the city did not take responsibility and pointed the finger at each other. “There is nothing as complex as the housing market”, Bos and Heijnen respond. Both emphasise that they are keeping a close eye on developments. Bos: “Of course it is good if there is sufficient supply. The problem lies in the temporary friction at the start of the academic year. There is no project developer who builds units for three months that are then empty for nine months.”
The crisis came as a surprise, says Bos. “In July there were still rooms available at Maastricht Housing. The first signs only came in August. Then we sent students an extra warning email: 'Keep in mind that you will have to look for a room longer'.”
Even though Bos realises that it is an important task of the university and the city, he points out that students have a responsibility too. “The Guesthouse works with a room guarantee regulation. Non-EER students who are not sure if they are coming or not, can reserve a room in the Guesthouse beforehand. If they don’t come after all, then it is no problem. A mere seventy students made use of this regulation,” he says surprised. “When you come from India to Maastricht and think that there is a room ready and waiting for you, you have made a miscalculation.”