The problem to find housing as an international student

By Bárbara Luque

On October 5, the National Monitor of Student Housing (Landelijke Monitor Studentenhuisvestiging 2017) reported the shortage of 40,000 student rooms across The Netherlands. This lack of living space for ordinary students is well known, but the problem develops into an even bigger one when applied to international students.

The vulnerability of students, especially foreign, is an ongoing problem in the country. “Last year, we all received reports that they have slept in parks or have to be temporarily retired in hotels. So, with them the problem is most urgent”, stated Tariq Sewbaransingh, chairman of The Dutch Student Union (LSVB). Even worse, some students had to bare sleeping in their cars, many of them eventually giving up on their attempts to fi nd a room and thus giving up their studies in The Netherlands.

The number of international students is constantly increasing, but the availability of rooms cannot cope with it. According to The Dutch Student Union (LSVB), by August 2017 a shortage of 12,000 student homes was reported only in the capital, where the problem is the greatest. For instance, the University of Amsterdam stated that an approximated of five hundred students are still on the waiting list for housing. This leads to one of the biggest problems regarding the subject, where due to the lack of housing, students face the options of either taking an overpriced room or keep looking for one indefinitely.

Adding to the list of problems, landlords state a “no international” disclosure in their housing ads, protecting themselves from having to seek for a new tenant in a short period of time. Either that, or the students face a contract which they cannot terminate in the short term. Furthermore, Dutch universities have a drive to bring more and more internationals, as it is good for the appearance of their institutions. But can they ensure that all those people get a room on arrival with the current housing market? Apparently, they have taken no responsibility in fi nding accommodation for their own students, leaving them alone and confused fi nding a room in a country they are new to.

Javier Gonzalez, 31-year-old Mexican, talked about some of the problems he has faced with housing, “Students have no negotiating power and are at a huge disadvantage because of the fi xed length of stay. The landlord requirement of a Dutch bank account proves diffi cult for foreign students, as a Dutch address is needed to open the account, coming to a never-ending cycle”. Javier, who is studying his masters at TU Delft, also stated the issue of the language barrier, as contracts are legally required to be in Dutch. This could lead to the possibility of the landlord taking advantage of the null knowledge of Dutch laws protecting the tenant.

This abuse on the tenants also come in other forms. For example, it has been known of landlords extending foreigners illegal contracts, or students who have paid huge agency fees only to be left with no room at all. Stories like this also include scams via Facebook, where for every room posted there are at least 50 posts from desperate students who are then charged with hundreds of euros before even arriving in the country. A spokesman for the Woonbond, Dutch association that looks out after tenants’ interests, explained that “They do not know what’s not allowed in The Netherlands”, stressing the vulnerability of international students in the subject. For these actions, the federation is considering a trial process.

Acting in this matter, a few dozen students and residents of Groningen protested on September 8 against the lack of housing for foreign students, stating that if the universities attract so many students, they should take on the responsibility of housing them as well. The situation got to the point where the city council reopened a refugee center, offering 100 students the opportunity to stay for € 16 the night. The housing problem is snowballing particularly in Amsterdam, Groningen, Rotterdam and Utrecht. The Dutch organization Nuffi c measured an approximate of 112,000 international students currently studying in The Netherlands, which is why the country should act upon it right away.

These numbers, the highest ever measured by the fi rm, are expected to increase 40% by 2025. Facing this scenario, universities must take responsibility in housing their students; after all, their appearance and international reputation are translated into more students and thus, more money.