Moving to a new country is often something to be celebrated. However, for new international students arriving into the Netherlands, this is often a stressful, anxious time where it’s not a hangover that will cause them to miss their uni commitments — but homelessness.
This is a real issue for many who are coming to the Netherlands to study. Instead of being greeted with the idyllic image of eating cheese whilst riding a bike and wearing clogs many are faced with an unfair, confusing, and often discriminatory housing market.
Student housing crisis: The problems
One of the major issues seems to be a lack of affordable housing for all students, not just the internationals. Often rooms are subpar and overpriced but the lack of a viable alternative means that students have little choice than to take what they can.
Universities in the Netherlands are not responsible for finding their students accommodation. New students are left to face the daunting task of finding a room alone and often with conflicting and mostly useless advice from people who have little experience of what it is actually like.
Students who are already in the city are at a slight advantage. They can begin their search in plenty of time and will often have a network of people who can help them.
However, new students, who may only find out that they actually have a uni place as little as a month before they are due to start, have no such luxury. They are told that the most fruitful way to search for a house or room is online often through Facebook groups specifically for student housing or housing agency websites. But for international students, this can be a major issue.
Facebook and student housing: it’s problematic
To begin, Facebook groups are often plagued by unscrupulous fraudsters waiting to take advantage of desperate people. They offer a room if a deposit is sent straight away but of course, no such room exists. Some people have been scammed out of hundreds of euros before they’ve even arrived in the country.
Even if you go through a housing agency there are risks. There are plenty of stories circulating of people who have paid huge agency fees to these companies only to be left with no house and considerably less money.
Even the reputable agencies will charge vast sums in agency fees, contract fees, basically any fee that they can justify and all this is before you pay a deposit or your first month’s rent.
The Facebook groups paint a grim picture of exactly how bad things are. For every room posted there are at least 50 posts from concerned prospective students pleading for somewhere to stay. This DutchReviewer has even seen people offering money, free meals and other services in exchange for someone helping them find a room.
Utrecht student and vlogger Levi Hildebrand read this article and set out to give you 5 reasons why it’s a good idea to house an international student!
“Dutch girls only”
This is when the internationals are faced with the cherry on top of all of their problems, the dreaded few words at the top of nearly every post “Dutch girls only”. The arguments for girls wanting an all-female house are understandable and some might say that it’s reasonable to want to live in an all-Dutch house in your own country.
Unfortunately, what Dutch students want is in contradiction with what Dutch universities want. There is a real drive from Dutch universities to bring in more internationals but the housing market as it stands cannot cope with this influx.
As a result, there are people who have missed their first lectures, people sleeping in tents, couchsurfing, or wandering around the cities asking anyone they meet if they know of a room. This is clearly not the best welcome and can lead to a feeling of a divide between Dutch and international students which is far from ideal.
Student housing: Is there a solution?
For now, a solution to the student housing crisis seems to be far away in the distant and foggy future. However, over the past few years, students have started coming together across the Netherlands to try and ensure a fairer housing system.
For example, in September 2017, students in Groningen took to the steps of the Academy building to protest the lack of housing facilities made available to an ever-increasing student population. Temporary accommodation was offered to the students (in an old refugee asylum, and only until the end of October) for €16 a night, to be shared with 3 other people, with no WiFi, a shared bathroom and no access to a kitchen. The students asked that the university adopt a bit more responsibility given that its influx of students was steadily increasing, yet it offered little in terms of housing aid.
Student protests continue to this day, with more and more students calling for a fairer student housing market. For example, students are pressing for more regulation in terms of how much landlords can charge per room and cities such as Amsterdam have now banned Airbnb. The movement towards a solution is small, but the press for change by young people offers us something to hold onto.
How do you feel about the student housing crisis? Let us know in the comments below!
Feature Image: Greta Schölderle Møller/ Unsplash
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in September 2017, and was fully updated August 2020 for your reading pleasure.