Unsurprisingly, housing was the most important topic during the English-language municipality election debate on Monday night.
The debate was organised by student organisation SIB and Forum Groningen in hopes of raising awareness of the March 16 elections among internationals eligible to vote.
Liberal party VVD advocated in favour of reducing housing rules and regulations. It also has plans to build housing units along with restaurants and cafés on the Zernike campus. Local party Student en Stad wanted a focus on shared housing rather than the construction of more studios. ‘Students want to live together, which means we need student housing with common areas’, its representative said.
Stadspartij 100% voor Groningen, another local party, said that it is very concerned with rents, which are as high as 1,300 euros per month. Their solution is to build more houses, believing that the rental prices will then decrease.
The parties also talked about how they plan on helping internationals better understand their rights when it comes to renting a room. Labour party PvdA said the rental help desk run by the municipality and the Groningen Students’ Union (GSb) should be promoted more.
In contrast, Christian party ChristenUnie wanted to shift the burden off the municipality. ‘Lecturers are students’ first point of contact. The municipality should see that the university’s lecturers point out rental rights to students’, argued the ChristenUnie, adding that student organisations should also be the ones telling students what their rights are.
Another question the parties tackled was whether Groningen should internationalise more. Christian party CDA said it welcomed students from all over the world, adding that Groningen can benefit from the ideas internationals bring with them. Right-wing party PVV said that Dutch culture is important. ‘If internationals come here, we should have a programme to help them get acquainted with Dutch culture.’ Green party Partij voor de Dieren wants to make the city more accessible and welcoming for refugees and immigrants.
On transportation, progressive-liberal party D66 said it wants to make Groningen even more bike friendly than it already is, offering people faster ways to get from point A to B with pedal power.
Asked how they plan on reaching more internationals, Green party GroenLinks said they advocated for voting passes to be produced in Dutch and in English, complemented by an outreach campaign by the municipality. Socialist party SP lamented about the low turnout in the last elections, saying that the richer neighbourhoods had higher voting turnouts. It described internationals as one of the marginalised communities.
The debate also had its contentious moments. When the representative of the PVV mentioned he was in favour of quotas for internationals, this quickly earned him a rebuke from his Student & Stad colleague, who told him, ‘If you’re advocating a quota for students, then I’m advocating for a quota of white men over forty.’