With Matthieu Sjollema – ASVA Studentenvakbond
Conducted and edited by J.K. Langeveld
Rome, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Glasgow, London, Berlin. The list goes on. Students struggle with finding affordable and decent accommodation, often being forced to extremely long commutes. International students often face even more precarious conditions, despite bringing so much to the local intellectual and economic life. In this blog post we discuss the situation in Amsterdam with Matthieu Sjollema, who is active for the biggest student union in Amsterdam named ASVA.
Could you describe what the current problems in Amsterdam are with regards to student housing, and in particular regarding international students?
The housing situation for students in Amsterdam faces several significant challenges. To begin with, the waiting times for affordable social student homes can be excessively long, often spanning around four years. This extended waiting period adds to the difficulties students face in securing suitable accommodation during their academic tenure. Secondly, there is a lack of effective coordination between relevant actors such as the municipality, educational institutions, housing corporations, and student organizations. This lack of coordination can hinder the development and implementation of comprehensive solutions to address the housing shortage for students. Thirdly, the current housing supply in Amsterdam often suffers from a misallocation of resources. Some homes intended for families may be occupied by older individuals who do not require such large spaces, leaving students with limited options. This mismatch between housing supply and demand exacerbates the shortage of suitable student accommodation. Fourthly, many existing student housing units suffer from quality issues, including poor fire safety measures, health concerns, and inadequate insulation. These substandard living conditions can have a negative impact on the overall well-being of students.
International students face additional problems. One of the major issues is that the big influx of students at the start of the academic year causes a surge in demand for housing, leading to intense competition, while the availability of accommodations is limited. As a result, international students often find themselves facing the risk of becoming homeless, spending absurd amounts of money on staying in hotels or being forced to return to their home countries if they cannot secure suitable housing. A second issue is that international students often have limited knowledge about the housing market in Amsterdam. They might be unfamiliar with the rental process, local regulations, and suitable neighborhoods. This lack of information can make it more difficult for them to find suitable accommodation and makes them more susceptible to being scammed when looking for a house. In addition, the Amsterdamse Aanpak Volkshuisvesting, the policy document in which the municipality declared its plans for the coming years with regard to housing explicitly states that international students are not a group the municipality will put effort into in the coming period. This could mean more problems for existing and incoming international students.
What view does ASVA have with regard to student housing in Amsterdam?
For a student nothing is as important as their room; it’s the place where they study, throw parties, and of course sleep. It’s a place you can call your home. Nothing is more stressful than not having a home, or having to live somewhere without security. Research has shown that housing is the most important factor in students’ well-being. Therefore we as ASVA believe that housing must be considered as a fundamental right for students. However, the current situation shows that we are very far away from this ideal situation. A lot more affordable housing is needed. We believe that many of the problems in the Dutch housing market are caused by the market based ideas that dominate the housing world. We therefore believe that market actors are not the solution to the housing crisis. In the Netherlands student housing is not arranged by the university, thus it is up to the housing corporations or private sector to provide the housing. Sadly the housing corporations in the Netherlands have been heavily weakened over the past few years. A major systemic change is needed in order to let social housing flourish again.
To what extent does ASVA think the legal structure regarding student housing is influencing the crisis?
The legal structure is one of the key problems in the housing crisis. Many plans for housing are blocked by legislation. One of the key examples is the Kronenburg project. Kronenburg is an empty plot of land, next to Uilenstede, the biggest student campus in the Netherlands. The plot was supposed to accommodate new student housing for 2500 students. However, this plan was blocked by pollution legislation. The main airport in the Netherlands, Schiphol, causes too much noise pollution for the housing to be allowed to be build. ASVA believes this is an absurd situation, as the area is already surrounded by other student houses and the current crisis desperately requires building new student houses.
A second way in which legislation hinders student housing is that people need a permit if they want to rent out their house to 3 or more persons. Many houses that can accommodate more persons are currently illegally being rented out to more than 3 persons. As a result, the people living there cannot register themselves. Which means that Dutch students cannot apply for the ‘living on your own’ grant, and that international students cannot get a personal identification number for dealing with the Dutch authorities. The latter causes all sorts of further problems.
As you can see, legislation is one of the most complicated problems surrounding student housing. The dilemma is that changing the law may cause different problems. ASVA does not have ready-made solutions, but we argue that it is important to be context-specific. Situations vary, and different things might be possible in different settings. For example in the case of the Kronenburg project, we want student housing to be of the highest quality possible, without noise pollution, but in this case it could give 2500 students a home. That outweighs the noise pollution concerns. Those are the type of questions we need to ask ourselves: what is the balance, and what is the price of living?
What does ASVA do to promote their position on student housing?
We try to be very public in our opinions, both serious and humorous. We publish regularly in various media and blogs. Moreover, we have different Instagram accounts, such as one called ‘kutkamers’. These are meant to display the housing crisis in a fun and entertaining way. Furthermore, we form connections with other associations and organizations fighting for better student housing, such as the FNV (the biggest national trade union), rental rights organizations, and others. In addition, we lobby extensively at city and municipal level. For example, we have a partnership with Lieven de Key, a social housing corporation, and regular meetings with the municipality about student housing. We are present at different levels: both at the level of civil servants, as at the level of the boards.
Could you explain in what ways ASVA is cooperating with the city council, housing corporations and educational institutions to reduce the housing shortage?
Sadly, the ‘convenant studentenhuisvesting’ was not renewed by the municipality this year. This convenant was a cooperation agreement between the Amsterdam Metropolitan Region, educational institutions, student unions and housing associations, with the aim of reducing shortages in the housing market and improve the position of students in the housing market. We were very disappointed by this decision. The municipality argued that in a crisis like this they are unable to make specific plans for all different groups, and instead a broader approach should be taken. We firmly believe that this covenant played a crucial role in addressing the housing needs of students.
ASVA remains committed to work closely with the municipality, housing corporations, and educational institutions. We regularly meet with two major student housing providers in Amsterdam, DUWO and the Key. By engaging in discussions with these housing corporations, ASVA aims to advocate the interests and needs of students and to foster cooperation in order to find solutions to the housing shortage. Moreover, we participate in a taskforce dedicated to student housing, which includes everyone concerned with student housing within the University of Amsterdam. This taskforce serves as a platform for discussions, brainstorming, and joint efforts to address the housing challenges faced by students. We also holds periodic meetings with the relevant persons of the municipality (Zita Pels and Reinier van Dantzig) and their functionaries responsible for housing matters. These meetings provide an opportunity for ASVA to maintain direct contact with the municipality, share concerns, provide feedback, and work collaboratively towards improving the housing situation for students. Through these collaborative initiatives, ASVA strives to represent the student community, raise awareness about the housing shortage, advocate for student-friendly policies, and contribute to finding practical solutions to alleviate the housing crisis in Amsterdam.