Students

Noise complaints, housing shortage, and the bicycle mess

How can Groningen deal with its students?

The student population is one of the biggest themes of this year’s municipal elections in Groningen. Unfortunately, students are not being celebrated; people in the city have been increasingly criticising them over the past few years.
16 March om 10:59 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 16 March 2022
om 10:59 uur.
March 16 at 10:59 AM.
Last modified on March 16, 2022
at 10:59 AM.

Door Giulia Fabrizi

16 March om 10:59 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 16 March 2022
om 10:59 uur.

By Giulia Fabrizi

March 16 at 10:59 AM.
Last modified on March 16, 2022
at 10:59 AM.

Giulia Fabrizi

Nieuwscoördinator
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More than 60,000 of Groningen’s 230,000 residents are students, which means the city has the youngest population in the country. Students ensure the city is vibrant, lively, and creative.

At the same time, according to a survey the city disseminated in the run-up to the elections, Groningen residents complain of excessive noise, the mess of bicycles everywhere, and the unbridled growth of the university. 

And let’s not forget about the housing crisis. While the city suffers from the lack of affordable houses, students needing a roof over their heads only increase the pressure.

The student population was mentioned so often in the city’s survey that the topic became one of the main themes of the elections. That also means that the political parties angling for a seat on the council have opinions on the matter.

UKrant talked to all parties about four different themes: the housing shortage, the university’s growth, the bicycle mess, and noise. 

What do to about the bicycle mess?

It’s true that students aren’t the only people who travel around the city by bike. But it’s interesting that most bicycles are found around university buildings, student houses, and the nightlife district. What should be done to solve the bicycle mess?

‘A city with bicycle issues is a blessed city’, says Elte Hillekens with GroenLinks. As far as she’s concerned, the solution is simple: creating more parking facilities, like the recently opened one under the former V&D store at the Grote Markt. Or like the free parking facility under the Forum, or the facility at the university’s Harmonie building.

A city with bicycle issues is a blessed city

Independent candidate Teunis Dokter, Partij voor de Dieren (Animal Party), Stadspartij 100% voor Groningen, D66, and Forum voor Democratie (FVD) agree. FVD does explicitly add that they don’t think car parks should be sacrificed. ‘We shouldn’t make it impossible for people to reach the city centre by car’, says FVD party leader Sander van den Maagdenberg. 

The ChristenUnie proposes a different solution to the bicycle issues: making the sidewalks wider. ‘That would create more room for pedestrians and parked bikes’, says Sten Wennink.

‘So many streets were designed for cars and trucks. If we turn them into one-way streets and redesign one half of those streets, you’d create a sidewalk with room for people to walk and park their bikes.’

More enforcement

Other parties say the problem would be partially solved by adding more parking facilities, but especially by enforcing the issue. ‘Many students own more than one bike’, says Carlos Bril with the Partij van de Zuinigheid (Party for Economy). ‘This has made bikes essentially disposable and people are more likely to leave them lying around. Removing them is a fine solution.’

Most people park their bike in front of their house

Partij voor het Noorden (Party for the North), the CDA, and D66 argue in favour of regular enforcement. ‘We should create parking facilities in locations that students frequent’, says CDA member Etkin Armut. ‘We should strictly enforce around these locations so people actually park their bikes where they should.’

Tricky problem

Not everyone is in favour of more enforcement. ‘It’s a tricky problem’, says Rik Heiner with the VVD. ‘Most people prefer parking their bike in front of their house, and that’s very difficult to prevent. Having enforcers walk by every hour seems a bit excessive.’

PVV and Belang van Nederland (Netherlands Interests, BVNL) agree. ‘Make sure there are proper facilities in front of people’s houses’, says Ton van Kesteren with the PVV. ‘Don’t count on indoor parking facilities solving everything. There’s no way everyone will be using those.’

BVNL says the best solution is to take a closer look at the problem first. ‘Perhaps that’s something we could do in conjunction with students’, says Robert Pestman. ‘What do people need and what are they willing to do? That’s how you end up with a workable solution.’

Housing shortage, investors, and bad landlords

These days, renting a glorified broom closet that costs more than four hundred euros a month is commonplace. Anyone who isn’t renting through official housing corporations often has to pay through the nose.

Then there’s the general housing shortage, which means that especially international students sometimes end up looking for a place to live for months. This academic year, the emergency housing provided for homeless students proved more necessary than ever; for the first time since its inception, it stayed open until December. 

How do the political parties see these issues and what solutions do they propose?

Zernike

All parties pretty much agree that student housing should be constructed at the Zernike campus. Preferably along with facilities such as restaurants and pubs, shops, and sports facilities, turning the place into a full-blown campus.

Parties like the SP, CDA, and Stadspartij 100% voor Groningen all argue that there should be at least five thousand rooms, and Partij voor het Noorden even thinks more than a campus is needed.

If the UG builds housing itself, it would take pressure off the housing market

If D66, GroenLinks, Student & Stad, and Partij voor de Dieren, Zernike will become a full-blown campus, but with fewer than five thousand rooms.

VVD, PvdA, ChristenUnie, independent candidate Teunis Dokter, Partij van de Zuinigheid, PVV, FVD, and Belang van Nederland don’t really have a real number in mind. Most parties consider a campus mainly a solution for internationals who will be studying or working at the university on a temporary basis.

The law forbids universities from using public funds for things like housing. But the UG also has private funds, and they’re allowed to use that.

If the university funds the project itself, it could be done without a profit motive, says Robert Pestman with BVNL. ‘It would allow many students to find a room for a reasonable price, and it takes some of the pressure off the rest of the housing market.’

Independent candidate Teunis Dokter agrees: ‘The UG owns a lot of property, which means it could easily fund housing with its own money.’

Social cohesion

There is a drawback, according to several parties: housing students here would essentially ‘ban’ them to the outskirts of the city. ‘What makes Groningen so unique is the mix of students and other residents in all areas of the city’, says GroenLinks’ Elte Hillekens.

As far as she’s concerned, this shouldn’t change, and Student & Stad, PvdA, ChristenUnie, Partij voor de Dieren, Partij van de Zuinigheid, the VVD, D66, and PVV agree.

We should immediately stop the conversion of student housing to studio apartments

Different people living together promotes social cohesion, they say. ‘That’s also why we immediately have to stop the conversion of student housing into independent studio apartments’, says Steven Bosch with Student & Stad.

Student & Stad, as well as the VVD, SP, D66, and the ChristenUnie, think common rooms in student houses are an important part of student life and that they should be maintained.

Bad landlords

Various parties are concerned about bad landlords exploiting students. The SP is clear on the matter: renting to young people and students should be done by housing corporations only.

GroenLinks and PvdA are milder and would like to see something done against the bad landlords. One solution would be to require anyone who buys a house to occupy it for at least two years after the purchase. This would serve as a deterrent to investors buying up houses.

The PVV disagrees with this solution. ‘The municipal council says that investors are capitalists trying to screw everyone and that they can’t be trusted’, says Ton van Kesteren. ‘I don’t think it’s all that bad. We know who the bad landlords are and we can do something about them. But there are also good landlords, and we need them even more. You can’t treat them as if they were one and the same.’

 The growing university

Never before did the student population at the UG grow as quickly as over the past four years. In 2018, they received 31,000 applications, which had risen to 36,000 by 2020. Much of the growth is due to international students finding their way to Groningen.

While the university isn’t allowed to just reject students, no matter where they’re from, many of the political parties feel something should be done about the UG’s unbridled growth. But what?

The uni can’t keep claiming it’s just something that happens

Many parties say the university controls its own growth ambitions. ‘Several faculties literally say in their future plans that they want growth through an increase in international students’, says Jim Lo-A-Njoe with D66. ‘That means this growth isn’t an accident, but rather part of their strategic policy.’ 

The PvdA points this out, as well. ‘The university can’t keep claiming it’s just something that happens and refuse to take responsibility’, says Julian Bushoff with this party.

No active recruitment

If the university wants to take actual responsibility, it should stop actively recruiting students, says the Partij van de Zuinigheid, PvdA, SP, and Stadspartij 100% voor Groningen. Both the ChristenUnie and the CDA feel it would behove the university’s ‘morality’ to consider ‘healthy growth’ and its consequences. 

On top of that, almost all parties feel that the UG should improve its communication towards international students: they should let them know about the Groningen housing shortage.

If they fail to communicate this properly, Wesley Pechler with the Partij voor de Dieren thinks the city should increase the pressure with ‘soft power’. ‘The university needs the city. If they won’t limit their growth, the city could withhold things like building permits.’ 

Students aren’t the problem

‘Students aren’t the problem’, says Rik Heiner with the VVD. ‘Housing is. It’s not our job to tell the higher education institutes to accept fewer students, that’s their responsibility.’

‘Taking educational quality into account, it might be a good idea to have agreements in place about the number of students, but the city isn’t responsible for any of that’, says Elte Hillekens with GroenLinks. ‘We should be building more housing.’

It’s not our job to tell the uni to accept fewer students

Partij voor het Noorden says ending active recruitment should be ‘a last resort’. ‘We’re a tolerant country and everyone is welcome’, says Leendert van der Laan. ‘The problem is in housing.’

The PVV says the university should figure out whether the students it invites have any reasonable chance of finding housing. If there’s insufficient housing, the PVV’s Ton van Kesteren doesn’t see anything wrong in ending student recruitment. FVD would like a quota on international students.

Emergency housing

There is indeed a problem when it comes to housing. This year again, hundreds of students, mostly internationals, were homeless for an extended period of time after the academic year had started. The university and the city had once again underestimated the need for emergency housing.

Most parties agree that this can’t happen again, and that emergency housing should be taken care of on time. It would be better to have too many beds than too few, they say.

However, some parties feel that the city has done enough and that the university should shoulder the burden and pay for it. ‘The university is responsible for people coming to the Netherlands, so it’s their responsibility to house them’, says Robert Pestman with Belang van Nederlands.

GroenLinks and independent candidate Teunis Dokter also think the university should be responsible for emergency housing.

Noise complaints

Living next-door to students when you’re no longer a student yourself isn’t always easy. Especially during the lockdowns, neighbourhoods with high student populations were plagued by noisy partygoers playing loud music until late at night.

How do the parties feel about combating noise complaints in neighbourhoods with high student populations?

Now that students are able to go out again, I haven’t heard much about noise complaints

Several parties think the nuisances of the past two years are mainly due to the pandemic. PvdA, Student & Stad, and GroenLinks emphatically say we shouldn’t make this a bigger issue than it is.

Not all students are a nuisance. Sure, some are, which is why the source of the nuisance should be properly tracked. ‘Now that students are able to leave the house again, meet up at student clubs and go out on the town, I haven’t heard much news about noise complaints’, says Steven Bosch with Student & Stad.  

FVD also proposes figuring out exactly where the noise is coming from. ‘Then you can do something about it’, says Sander van den Maagdenberg. 

Increased enforcement

Other parties do argue in favour of improved enforcement. Like the SP, who think the police should be allowed to intervene much sooner and that homeowners should be fined. ‘Literally making them pay would put a swift end to the noise’, says Jimmy Dijk. 

The VVD, D66, independent candidate Teunis Dokter, Partij voor de Dieren, and the PVV are also in favour of stricter enforcement. The police should be given more authority, fine people more and more quickly, and landlords should also be made responsible. At worst, they could lose their landlord permit.

Talk to each other

While Belang van Nederland agrees with the need for a closer watch of students causing a nuisance, the party thinks fines alone won’t do the trick. There should be an incentive for students to do better, like the potential to lose their room. The party thinks a similar incentive of losing their permit would also work for landlords.

People have different interpretations of the concept of quality of life

The ChristenUnie, CDA, Partij voor het Noorden, Partij van de Zuinigheid, VVD, and Stadspartij 100% voor Groningen would like to focus on improving the relationship between Groningen’s regular residents and students. They feel that if people talk to each other and get to know each other better, they’ll calm down.

‘It’s almost never a matter of ill will’, says Sten Wennink with the ChristenUnie. ‘But people have different interpretations of the concept of quality of life. So let’s talk about it.’

If people aren’t willing to talk to each other voluntarily, the ChristenUnie would implement the concept of ‘neighbourhood justice’. A form of mediation for the neighbourhood where people are forced to confront each other. 

Stadspartij 100% voor Groningen also thinks this approach could work in getting people together, and Partij van de Zuinigheid proposes a neighbourhood council. 

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