Still searching for a room

Efforts by housing group SSH to negotiate a better price for rooms on a hotel boat proved unsuccessful. That means that hundreds of foreign students have been left to their own devices to find a place to live.
By Nina Yakimova and Traci White

While many incoming international students were greeted by the friendly faces of the ‘Movin’ to Groningen’ committee at Schiphol and met their ESN buddies at the station this week, not every newcomer has a place to stay in the city just yet.

Earlier this summer, SSH (Stichting Studenten Huisvesting) attempted to lower the 1,500 euro price tag for rooms on a hotel boat so as to ensure sufficient space for foreign students – to no avail. ‘The hotel boat remained too expensive’, says SSH Groningen manager Jolien Stokroos.

Housing Act

The boat was meant to serve as a replacement for the 198 rooms which are no longer available in the Diaconessenhouse, which closed over the summer. ‘Unfortunately, we have not been able to provide a room for every person who has registered with us’, Stokroos says, although she cannot say precisely how many more registrations there are than rooms.

But losing the Diaconessenhouse rooms is not the only challenge facing SSH: changes to the Housing Act in 2015 mean that the group cannot cooperate with other housing corporations and potential partners.

The Student Hotel

Unlike SSH, the universities are allowed to make agreements with third parties, such as the recently opened The Student Hotel. The Hanze University of Applied Sciences is expecting more than 900 foreign students to begin this semester, and has reserved 80 of the 365 rooms at the hotel, according to Hanze press contact person Steffy Praamstra. RUG spokesperson Gernant Deekens says the RUG has reserved 40 rooms for PhD students at the hotel.

The total number of new foreign students at the RUG is not yet known because the registration period is still ongoing, but there will be at least 2,300 students present at the Welcoming Ceremony on Thursday afternoon.

The rooms at The Student Hotel cost more than SSH accommodations – 635 euros a month, versus 385 (on average) through the housing group – but residents there have access to amenities including a complimentary bike and an on site restaurant. Aurélie Gradwohl, account manager at The Student Hotel, says that ‘in both cases of the RUG and [Hanze], students are also booking rooms not reserved by their university.’

Still searching

Even with rooms reserved, the price is not within the budget of many students. Anna Severinenko, an incoming journalism master student from Germany, says that it is just too much money to pay for a room. Even staying in a room in a hostel with ten beds in town would cost at least 600 euros per month, she says.

Severinenko has lived in major European cities like Copenhagen and Barcelona in the past few years, but she says she has had more difficulty finding a room in Groningen than anywhere else. ‘It’s really crazy’, she says. Even though she is still seeking a room, she says she never assumed the university would coordinate her house hunt for her. ‘I just assumed I’d do it myself because I’m also not really up for the student dorm thing.’

De Trefkoel

SSH’s portfolio is likely to remain limited in the near future: the only realistic replacement for the Diaconessenhouse on the horizon is De Trefkoel, which is under construction. In January 2015, SSH confirmed the new building project would include rooms for foreign students, but construction was delayed due to earthquakes in the region: construction was halted in order to bring the plans up to code for earthquake-proofing.

De Trefkoel is expected to be finished in the second half of 2017, at which time SSH should be able to provide an additional 450 rooms and studios to international students. Currently, SSH has 1,558 rooms available in Groningen, 150 of which are accommodations for (some) bursary PhD students.

Supply and demand

A mismatch between the supply and demand for rooms for foreign students has existed for years in Groningen, well before SSH took over in early 2015. ‘We are aware that – even with the completion of De Trefkoel – we will still be unable to provide sufficient high-quality housing’, Stokroos says. ‘We are currently pursuing every possibility to replace some of the older buildings which we rent from housing corporations with new, renovated and/or completely rebuilt properties.’

Deekens reiterates that the university is ultimately not responsible for providing student housing. ‘The RUG facilitates it through our arrangement with SSH. Providing people register in time, they can book a room through SSH. If SSH is full (or if people choose to go with another provider), then they can go to the private market.’ The RUG spokesperson says that it is not clear exactly how many students seek housing outside of SSH, nor does the university know how many are still in search of a room.

Warm welcome

So far, 1,295 international students have moved into rooms offered by SSH for the coming semester, which includes 300 Hanze students, 87 students from the University College Groningen and 908 other RUG students. Although SSH is not able to accommodate every new foreign student, the group has put extra effort into giving the students they are hosting a warmer welcome this year. Residence Assistants (RAs) helped the newly arrived students carry their heavily laden suitcases to their rooms, where they received a sim card and helpful information about local services along with their keys.


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