It seemed almost unavoidable: another housing crisis in Groningen at the beginning of a college year. Some students organizations try hard to help. SOS Groningen, for instance.
‘There is a housing crisis in Groningen!’, the Instagram page of Shelter Our Students (SOS) Groningen shouts. ‘We are taking action. Go to our website to temporarily house a student!’
‘Hanze UAS, University of Groningen, and the Municipality estimate they need up to 200 beds to facilitate emergency accommodation this year. That’s clearly not enough if you look at the number of newcomers’, SOS press-coordinator Marinus Jongman points out.
At the moment, there are three emergency hosting buildings in Groningen: Martinihouse at Donderslaan, The Village at Peizerweg and the Bud Gett Hostel in the city centre.
We are a coalition of different activists that protest against homelessness in the city
‘The idea to try and arrange more places to sleep, came from a phone call I had with ROOD (Socialist Youth Organization) in May’, says SOS-member Ivi. ‘Quickly a number of people became involved and the name SOS was born’,
‘We are a coalition of different activists that protest against homelessness in the city. We provide aid to homeless students and pressure the authorities to address the situation.’
The activist groups Ivi mentions are ROOD Groningen, Groningen Feminist Network, International Socialists Groningen, the Young Socialists, the Groningen Student Union, DAG and Lijst Calimero.
‘As of today, we already host 180 students’, says Jongman, ‘but we have received over 450 applications. For now, we are doing our very best, but we have not thought yet about the possible scenario in which we will have to say no to people. We just hope this is not going to happen.’
Why should one host a complete stranger during corona?
‘Because if we are in the privileged position to have a place to live, we have some responsibility to provide radical solidarity to those who do not’, Ivi says. ‘It is a small act, helping one single stranger when there are 480 in need on our list. If we all join in, we can make a big difference.’
Over 95 percent are internationals. They have far more difficulty to find a room
The housing emergency does not only affect internationals. Indeed, SOS was approached by Dutch students as well. Albeit in smaller numbers.
‘Less than five percent’, Jongman estimates. ‘Over 95 percent are internationals. They have far more difficulty to find a room.’
Ivi: ‘Firstly, they do not know the market well and have too little information on the law and the way to identify scammers. Secondly, Dutch people have a free transport card that internationals usually do not get. Dutch students can stay with their parents and travel to Groningen for classes. Thirdly, internationals have fewer opportunities to find a place before they actually arrive. For room viewings in Groningen you usually need to step by in person. Finally, a lot of landlords say nay to internationals, they prefer Dutch tenants.’
‘SOS is a non-profit initiative’, Jongman guarantees. ‘Being hosted by someone else is officially for free. Surely you can set up a Splitzer account with your hosts but that is something up to you.’
What can be done to solve the housing crisis in Groningen in the future?
‘The university needs to create sufficient adequate emergency housing.’ Ivi says. ‘They need to better inform incoming students, especially about scammers. Finally, we need 5000 affordable rooms at Zernike campus. The university cannot continue to grow if they do not build extra rooms.’
‘SOS is a short-term solution’, Jongman continues. ‘Groningen has not thought about long term facilities. We really hope not to arrive at the point where we need to face the worst-case scenario. Universities should build on-campus accommodation, inform future students of the challenge to find a place to live. All this should be communicated during the application process. It is not fair to go through a tough selection and then not be able to find a place. And every student should be encouraged to have a plan B, just in case.’
‘On September 9 there will be a protest and with it we hope to gain more media attention and pressure the university to provide sufficient emergency housing immediately’, Ivi says.
‘It is not a problem that only affects Groningen, it is a national crisis. Increased awareness on this topic is not an option. Concrete actions cannot be delayed anymore’, Jongman stresses.