‘It’s nice-ish’, says a 24-year-old Spanish student, who wants to remain anonymous (‘I don’t know who reads this’). He is happy to have a roof over his head. The Spanish student started looking for a room in August. When he came to Groningen last week, he still hadn’t found one. ‘I stayed at a hostel for one night, but when I heard about this, I immediately came here’, he says.
The former refugee centre is still undergoing renovations. The hallways are filled with tables and lengths of wood, and electricity wires dangle from the ceiling in places. The builders have been working non-stop for two weeks. ‘It’s a fast job, nothing too fancy’, one of them says. The spacious rooms are provided with two beds, a makeshift wardrobe, a desk, and a chair. It’s not exactly homey, but it’s clear that everything is being done to turn it into something nice.
‘A bit out of the way’
‘It could be better, it could be worse’, the Spanish student says. His Pakistani roommate, Zain Ulabideen, has a more positive attitude. ‘It’s better than staying at the hostel’, he says. The common room has a few tables, some chair, and a football table. One of the posters on the wall has been used as a dart board. Kitchens are being built, to be outfitted with simple electric cookers and nice combination microwaves.
‘Until then we just get our food in town’, says Ulabideen. ‘I don’t have a bicycle, so I take the bus everywhere.’ The distance is a bit of an issue, he says. To get to his chemical engineering classes, he has to travel forty minutes by bus. ‘It’s a bit out of the way of the city centre.’
But the students are glad to have a place to stay. It is warm and clean. They do feel the price might be a bit steep. ‘We’re the ones funding the project. And we’re sharing a room, so the rate should be 10 or 11 euros a night’, the student from Barcelona says. But both students have heard the stories of people sleeping in their car or at the train station. Compared to that, they are fortunate.
‘I don’t know where to point the finger. I’m just saying there’s not enough housing. Something’s gotta be done’, the Spanish student says. ‘If they keep this building, I might stay. It’s just not worth the hassle to get a different room. It’s a war out there.’
The RUG is planning for the building, which has been renamed Suite23, to stay open until the end of October. The university thinks pretty much all international students will have found a room by then. But the residents aren’t so sure. ‘I fear what happens if they don’t keep it. We’d probably have a new crisis in October.’
Rate per night
What are the rates at the temporary shelter based on? ‘The rate per bed per night is based on what the owner has told us’, RUG spokesperson Jorien Bakker says. ‘The costs are based in part on the fact that they purchased a hundred brand new box-springs mattresses. And then there are the costs for electricity, water, and management. We’ve also ensured there is a Wi-Fi connection, and we put extra furniture in the rooms, in addition to a bed and a mattress. Just to compare: the Simplon Jongerenhotel charges 18 euros a night for a bed in a dorm.’