In addition to Calimero, the Groningen Student Union (GSb) and ESN Groningen also signed the letter. They call upon the responsible parties to come together to find a solution for the housing problem that international students face.
‘There was a temporary solution at the Van Swietenlaan the past few months, but I think that is closing soon’, says Calimero president Henk Jan Wondergem. ‘And the SSH buildings at the Winschoterdiep and Van Houtenlaan will be closing due to the poor condition they’re in. That means there are increasingly fewer places to live, when the number of internationals will probably only continue to grow.’
According to Wondergem, this creates a problem that no one is trying to solve. ‘The RUG says it’s the alderman’s responsibility, and the alderman refers right back to the RUG. That kind of finger pointing gets us absolutely nowhere.’
In the letter, the student organisations propose three action points, one for each of the letter’s addressees. ‘The RUG should allocate more rooms for international students and ensure that students who miss out are well taken care of’, they write. ‘The municipality should also encourage private landlords to accept international students.’
The letter writers says student housing agency SSH should end the practice of short stay renting, where students rent a furnished room for a relatively short period of time and don’t enjoy any rent protection. ‘International students have just as much right to a decent room for a decent price, free of the legal tricks SSH pulls to circumvent rent protection.’
‘We are fully aware of this problem, and we applaud the parties for having written this letter’, RUG spokesperson Jorien Bakker responds. ‘The actions they propose also seem like good ideas.’
She does, however, iterate that RUG does not actually have the option of reserving more rooms at SSH. ‘We reserve rooms based on the number of registrations. Unfortunately, this number is often different from the number of international students that actually come to Groningen.’ This year, there were more than expected, which means the amount of rooms that had been allocated was insufficient.
According to Bakker, the two SSH buildings closing will not in fact lead to fewer available rooms. ‘New locations are being added. But it’s true that the total number of rooms needs to increase, and we’ll take care of that.’
The allegation that the RUG and the municipality are just pointing fingers at each other is incorrect, according to Bakker. ‘We collaborated on the housing at the Van Swietenlaan and we’re currently working on keeping that location open longer. It’s not fair to accuse us of avoiding our responsibilities.’ The RUG wants to arrange a meeting with Calimero, the GSb, and ESN.
‘I agree with the letter writers that the room shortage presents a problem, and that we should be better prepared next year than we were this year’, says Roeland van der Schaaf, alderman of urban development. ‘Many international students are attracted to Groningen, and it is our joint task to ensure they have a roof over their heads.’
In the meantime, he emphasises, the municipality is not just standing idly by. ‘It is a frequent topic of discussion during municipal council meetings. We’re specifically focusing on the construction of new buildings, because we feel that is the best solution.’
Van der Schaaf says the municipality is basically quite happy with SSH. He does not necessarily feel that the practice of short stay renting is an issue. ‘We should absolutely protect international students from bad contracts, but I’m not sure short stay falls into that category.’
‘We have deliberately decided on the practice of short stay contracts, because only then can we guarantee rooms for the new international students come September’, an SSH spokesperson says.
Besides, she emphasises, short stay renting is an all-in deal. ‘Students who are only staying in Groningen for a short period don’t have to worry about getting furniture or an internet connection, or about cleaning their room when they move out.’