Clearer communication towards new students about the housing market

Clearer communication towards new students about the housing market

“Make sure you have a room before you move to Maastricht”

20-01-2022

MAASTRICHT. Start your search in time (that is ASAP), arrange your housing before you come to Maastricht and housing is your own responsibility. That is the tenor of the message to all of Maastricht University’s new students. It is, putting it mildly, not easy to find affordable housing. So, with an expected shortage of about 700 student rooms in September, an early search is really necessary.

The message is, in principle, not very different to that of last year, says Maurice Evers, head of Maastricht Housing. “Back then, our most important point was: ‘Start looking on time’. But apparently that was not clear enough.” The adapted message is in accordance with the rules of the umbrella organisation Universities of the Netherlands, (Universiteiten van Nederland, or UNL), the Executive Board reports in a written update to a University Council committee.

But the UNL expresses itself even more insistently on its site: “Students are strongly advised not to travel to the Netherlands without having arranged their accommodation.” In other words: ‘Don’t come if you don’t have a roof over your head’. Evers: “It is taking things far to say something like that, but ultimately that is the tenor.”
The University of Twente was even obliged to report to foreign students that they should reconsider their registration with the university because of the lack of rooms in August of last year. “We don’t want to go that far. If you start looking on time, you should manage.”

Exchange students

By the way, the problem of housing exchange students who are coming to Maastricht in the coming months, has solved itself. Before Christmas, there was concern, but “because of COVID-19 or because they can’t find a room, a number of them have decided to cancel,” says Evers. Whether the latter group is large, he doesn’t know, “I understand that there are more than normal, but that housing was not the most important reason for cancelling”. About four hundred students who are coming to Maastricht for a semester, have found accommodation at the Guesthouse.

Gap year

There are still concerns for September. The university is expecting a shortage of 700 rooms. Evers: “Maybe it won’t be that bad because the student financing system is to be abolished from the 2023-2024 academic year. School leavers may choose to take a gap year next year.” Just to be safe rather than sorry, the UM and the city are looking for a solution. Evers: “A tremendous challenge.”
The two options are temporary ‘container homes’ on the Graanmolen, opposite the Volvo garage in Randwyck, and expansion on the Sorbonne- and Salernolaan, near the hospital. “The Graanmolen are premises that belong to the UM, having once been purchased for a possible Park & Ride for the biomedical centre.” The surface area is no less than 15 thousand square metres, but it is the least likely solution because of “external safety problems”. Gas pipes run under the ground, which must be taken into account when building homes. A greater chance of success would be the expansion of the number of prefab homes on the Sorbonne- and Salernolaan. It already has had 252 units since 2020. Because the grounds already belong to the university, a developer would be able to get to work using a long-lease construction. Finding a developer is a task for the university, says Evers.

Helping out

The situation reminds one of 2018. That is when the university also sounded the alarm with the city about the shortage on the housing market halfway through the academic year. Where would it be possible to build or expand quickly? Eventually, the choice was Annadal. It cost the university blood, sweat and tears to realise additional rooms within a few months.
The question arises: how are things now with the division of tasks? Is housing not simply the task of the city authorities? The primary task of the university is education and research. Not the housing market. The fact that the UM has, on several occasions, helped out, Vivianne Heijnen, former alderman in Maastricht, now state secretary in The Hague, also realises. In a council information letter at the end of December she wrote: “In the recent past, the UM itself has had to lend a helping hand on a number of occasions to prevent a shortage situation occurring.” According to Evers, there will have to be proper consultation with the city authorities on how to prevent this from happening.

Landlord rental

Looking at the shortage on the housing market, the city wants to highlight the possibility of renting a room in someone’s home. There is contact with Hospi-Housing, an initiative from Utrecht that matches students to landlords/landladies.They have been approached to set up a similar project in Maastricht, writes former alderman Vivianne Heijnen in a letter to the city council on 23 December.

Match Maastricht, part of the UM, has for some time been focusing on the HomeSharing project, also landlord/landlady rental, but with a social component. Students living-in pay less rent in exchange for helping and supporting the landlord/landlady (four to seven hours a week, anything from ironing to shopping). According to co-ordinator Hanna Hesemans, there are a “reasonable number of applications from students, but enthusiasm among landlords/landladies is not great yet. COVID-19 hasn’t helped because of the fear of becoming infected. Another, maybe even more important reason, is that landlords/landladies, often elderly, are hesitant because of the poor image that students have.” Despite the strict selection and the type of student who applies for this project, they fear that they will be bringing a noisy, partying inhabitant into their home.
In the meantime, a pilot is being set up with housing corporation Servatius. In principle, corporations do not allow tenants to ‘sublet’ their homes to another person, says Hesemans, but as there is a need, Servatius is open to a small-scale trial. There are some drawbacks. Taking in a student to do ‘odd jobs’, can have consequences for health care or rent subsidies as well as taxes. Match Maastricht is now looking into that, together with students from Zuyd Hogeschool’s Legal Lab.

Author: Wendy Degens

Photo: Loraine Bodewes

Tags: student housing, housing crisis, room shortage, students,studenthousing,randwyck,graanmolen,sorbonnelaan,prefab

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