SSH tenants pay more
Same room, different rent
Viola Ange was over the moon when she got a place in the Acero building in Selwerd. The student flat had been renovated only two years earlier, and after months of living in SSH’s emergency housing at the Plutolaan, having 22 square metres, her own shower and toilet, and a kitchen shared with only seven people was definitely an improvement.
For that privilege, the spatial planning student pays housing corporation SSH 639 euros a month.
Only one floor down lives law student Poppy Harley. She, too, has 22 square metres with a shower and toilet, and she too shares her kitchen with seven others. Yet she only pays 450 euros a month to Lefier. She is also eligible for rental benefits, which in her case brings the price down to 355 euros – almost 300 euros less than Viola.
For exactly the same apartment.
Neither of the students knew about the situation, but Viola is not really surprised when she finds out. ‘I guess that’s just how it is for internationals.’
Poppy is a little less resigned: ‘It’s not only surprising, but also unfair.’
Students renting from SSH, which offers almost two thousand rooms in ten buildings across the city, often pay more for the same number of square metres than tenants of other housing corporations of privately owned buildings, it turns out.
Take a room in the Upsilon building: 16 square metres, a kitchen shared with eight people, priced at 603 euros including utilities. Just a couple of streets away, on the Grote Beerstraat, Holland2stay offers rooms of 23 square metres with a private kitchen and toilet for 625 euros. Those are eligible for rental benefits, thus dropping the price to around 450 euros including utilities.
Looking back, there were much better options
The Libertas building, next to the UMCG, offers 16 square metres with a kitchen shared between seven people for 630 euros. Rooms in privately owned buildings just around the corner on the Oostersingel, meanwhile, are usually priced at around 500 euros including utilities, for more square footage.
‘The prices are much higher than for other houses where you get almost the same’, confirms Pleun Starman. She is Dutch, but rents a room from SSH in Libertas because it’s a requirement for UCG students to live there during their studies.
Many international students are in similar situations, where they are dependent on SSH if they want a roof over their head at all. ‘I didn’t really have the opportunity to look for something else since I came from abroad. Looking back, there were much better options’, says psychology student Max, who lived at SSH’s Winschoterdiep building in his first year.
One of the reasons for this price difference is that SSH only offers short-stay contracts, where students are allowed to rent a room for a year at most. The idea behind this is that these rooms are freed up again for new exchange students and other internationals coming to Groningen, but it comes at a cost: short-stay places are not eligible for rental benefits from the government.
Ken Hesselink, the chairman of Groningen student union GSb, explains that they are no fan of short-stay contracts. ‘They can be useful sometimes, but they are used way too much. They give a tenant fewer rights and less certainty about their situation.’
Short-stay contracts are used way too much
This partially explains why, in the Acero building, Viola pays so much more than Poppy: Viola has a short-stay contract, and Poppy a regular one. The differences don’t end there, though.
The base rent in Acero differs only slightly: Lefier charges 315 euros and SSH 363 euros, although that does get you basic furniture with SSH. But when you compare service costs, the prices start to diverge.
Electricity costs Viola 66 euros, while Poppy is only charged 33. SSH charges 34.40 euros for Wi-Fi; Lefier 16. Window cleaning is 4.60 a month with SSH, while Lefier does it for 1.38 euros. Maintenance costs 2.60 euros at Lefier, versus 8.05 euros at SSH.
How is this possible? SSH stresses that they are a non-profit organisation and not allowed to make a profit. ‘That means that the costs the residents pay are exactly the costs that SSH itself needs to pay’, explains spokesperson Lisa Plender.
With a short-stay contract, students pay all-inclusive, she points out. They pay a fixed amount for energy, irrespective of their usage. That means that, unlike with regular contracts, they don’t get a bill at the end of the year to settle the actual cost. A bill like that can be a nasty surprise, as many students found last year when the energy prices soared.
What the residents pay is exactly the cost that SSH itself needs to pay
‘Based on the costs from last year and our expectations for gas prices, we estimated the cost of electricity, for example, at 66 euros a month in the Acero rooms’, Plender says.
Yet most of Acero’s Lefier tenants that UKrant interviewed say they never had to pay extra at the end of the year – they often didn’t even know the system of settlement bills existed. While costs for Lefier tenants depend on how much energy they consume, it would be difficult to reach the monthly amount SSH’s tenants pay.
The other service costs are based on how much SSH spent the previous year, Plender says. She cannot say why their costs are so much higher than those of Lefier. ‘We charge what we pay our suppliers. But the cost for Wi-Fi does seem to be higher than it should be, so we have started an investigation into that.’
Meanwhile, other housing agencies offering short-stay accommodation are able to offer their rooms for less. The Village, for example, which offers exclusively short-stay rooms, charges 525 for the simplest room and 555 for the most expensive type, with comparable square footage. And those rents include more services, too, like cleaning of the common room, bed sheet changes once a month, and besides basic furniture, cooking utensils and crockery are provided as well.
Students have little choice but to accept the situation, though. ‘From what I’ve heard, the city is experiencing a housing crisis, so any place to sleep I could get, I’d book it’, says computer science exchange student Adrian Eveillé.
Poppy feels for her fellow internationals. ‘It’s shocking, but mostly sad. I feel internationals are being taken advantage of. Students should get similar options when looking for housing; no matter their background or from how far away they’ve come.’