Patrick Groothuis, director of Education and Student Affairs (ESA), is familiar with the problem: "This is not just a relevant topic in Eindhoven, there is a room shortage in the Netherlands. The effect of pressure on the housing market is also broader than just student accommodations: the entire Brainport region is growing strongly and with that also the pressure on the housing market increases here. Students, PhDs, PDEng trainees and new knowledge workers for companies: there is a lot of competition and that makes it difficult." Many TU/e students are bothered by this as well. The residential towers on the campus, Luna and Aurora, are fully rented out, according to the owners Camelot and Vestide.
For David Mihai Chira, TU/e bachelor student in Mechanical Engineering, it was quite difficult to find a place to live in Eindhoven: "I came here and did not know anyone. I had to discover everything myself. The concept of an open evening (‘kijkavond’) instead of a private viewing; wtf? In Canada where I come from, you just have free websites with the housing offer and you get a tour of the apartment/house of your choice. There is no rent allowance, but the rents are much lower than here. Through friends of friends, I found my first room through subletting. Then I found something for myself. I know people from the Design Academy who lived in tents until they found a room."
Finding a room was also a struggle for Princ: “I have tried agencies, I searched on Google, in Facebook groups and at the TU/e. There is a lot of demand and little to offer. Ads are restrictive using #dutchonly, #nostudents or #womenonly. TU/e does not get involved in the matter directly. It simply redirects you to third party websites where one is supposed to find housing on its own. But hardly anything comes out of them, just waiting lists. I was told two years at Vestide.”
"The fact that I had to search from Argentina did not make it any easier. I could not visit the viewings myself and the time difference made it difficult to respond in time if a new advertisement came online. As soon as something was posted, there were twenty responses in the first few minutes and the room was rented out in no time. I sent 55 e-mails to whatever I could find, out of desperation. Most landlords did not even send me an answer. This situation ensures that people benefit from the desperate international students. Just before my master started, I finally found something. I signed my contract on the plane, crazy. You are either lucky and you find something, or you are unlucky and homeless."
Discrimination on the housing market in the form of #dutchonly makes it even more difficult for internationals to find a room. They are already behind with a score of 2-0: can’t speak the Dutch language and the room often has to be arranged remotely. Chira wonders: "#dutchonly: is it about language or about ethnicity? When I was looking for a room I sent my messages in Dutch, but probably they noticed that I was not a native, because my Dutch was not that good at the time. One day I decided to change my last name to a Dutch last name to test if I could get an invitation for an open evening then. And that worked: I was invited. That was confronting."
The integration of international students is jeopardized by segregation. There are student houses with only Dutch people and houses with only internationals: "I did not feel at home in a Dutch-speaking student house. I did not understand the jokes and after the third time having the joke translated, I felt uncomfortable. I had no connection with the Dutch housemates. I feel bad I only feel comfortable with internationals," says Chira.
Many internationals are not just bothered by #dutchonly, but also by the fact that finding a room from afar is difficult. You cannot visit a viewing or come to the rental agency to physically sign papers. Ieva Vaitiekūnaitė, Bachelor's student Industrial Design, noticed the consequences of this: "I responded to a room of 10m2. This turned out to be two rooms of 5m2 each. That’s not what I expected."
She too suffered from #dutchonly: "Those rooms also seem to be the cheapest, but I cannot get one of those. I understand that Dutch students want to speak their own language at home, but if the university wants to attract more international students, it must also offer better options for living spaces. During the open days I especially came to Eindhoven and then I was told that housing is not a problem. The reality is very different. Aurora is too expensive for me and Vestide you can forget about for sure with those long waiting lists. Then it is already too late for an international student."
Who is responsible?
At the time of writing, the municipality did not want to give a substantive reaction to the current policy of the municipality of Eindhoven regarding student housing. The TU/e was able to provide more clarity about the policy of the university: it is not the responsibility of the university, but we do try to facilitate by working together with rental agencies. ESA director Groothuis: "The TU/e reserves hundreds of rooms every year with the external parties we work together with. This way we try to mediate for international students, PDEng trainees and PhD students to help them on their way. They cannot easily arrange a room in advance and are also bothered by #dutchonly. "
Groothuis emphasizes: "The mediating of rooms for the students through the International Office is a service, no guarantees are given on finding accommodation. The first come first served principle applies. The number of rooms that we have reserved for internationals is not sufficient. The university has agreements with Camelot for about 300 rooms that can only be rented to staff or students who have a connection with the TU/e campus, 355 rooms at Vestide for international students, about 300 rooms at Vestide for international PhDs and PDEng trainees and another 100 to 300 at other parties." The number of available rooms differs per year, partly because some students still live in such a room during the academic year after that.
An affordable room between 400 and 500 euros, with registration and if possible mixed with locals. Most of the interviewees would sign up for that. Of course, a PhD has a bit more budget for a place to live and therefore more choice than a student. Princ: "I have lived in Germany, the US and Austria and I can say that in comparison, finding accommodation in Eindhoven has really been a nightmare. Basing myself on the prices I have seen in those countries, 400-500 euros should do the trick in Eindhoven, it is certainly not a capital city.” Still, it proves to be not enough.
Bachelor student Vaitiekūnaitė says she is satisfied with a simple room that is unfurnished and has shared facilities: "I’ll buy some cheap second-hand furniture myself. That is important for me, a cheap living space." While for Christoph Hauenstein, PhD student at Molecular Materials and Nanosystems (M2N), it is important that the location is central. He is willing to spend more money to live in a quality apartment with more privacy.
The housing shortage made Hauenstein creative. He took the game of house hunting deadly serious: "I called the landlords instead of just mailing them. And I sent real motivation letters, as if I were applying for a new job. Eventually I even had two options for homes to choose from. "
"When I noticed that my experience was different from that of many others at the TU/e, I decided to write an article with tips on how to find a place to live in Eindhoven. Every student and PhD student has to go through this and everyone is faced with the same problem. Since my strategy proved successful, I wanted to share it. My post on Facebook got a lot of comments and likes. I hope it really helps others on their way."
Exploring the boundaries of the law
Not only Hauenstein is creative with his approach to the overheated housing market in Eindhoven. Landlords also come up with creative constructions where a considerably higher rent is asked for a mini studio for which housing allowance can then be applied for. The student ultimately pays the same amount per month as before and the government supplements the remaining part through the rent allowance. For the landlords it does not matter who pays the bill.
Princ noticed this construction when he was orienting himself on the Eindhoven housing market: "In my opinion, this concept is being abused by the agencies in combination with the shortage on the housing market in order to earn more money. They stretch the rent to just below the maximum rent for rent allowance and advertise it to students as ‘with the rental allowance you’ll only pay amount x’.” That way they can ask more for the same apartment without jeopardizing the number of interested people. One can then claim rent allowance to still be able to pay a possibly too high rent. “I now pay over 800 euros including costs and I qualify for the maximum rent allowance. I find the amount exorbitant but it was the only option, otherwise I would have been homeless. I received this offer the day before my flight. Someone had died and I got his place on the waiting list. Sad but true.”
Vaitiekūnaitė indicates that there is often a misconception about international students: "They all must be rich to be able to study here. The students from Eastern Europe are not all blessed with rich parents. I come from Lithuania and my parents earn much less than Dutch parents. The prices for housing here are so high, I cannot afford that. 400 euros including costs per month is really the max for me. From 23 years on it is easier to get rent allowance for an independent living space because the rents may be higher. That gives you more options." But (starting) undergraduate students are often under 23 years of age and receiving rent allowance is almost impossible then. You would have to find an independent living space for less than 424.44 euro (rental limit 2019). That is a rarity nowadays.
Rise up and protest
The first student protest last October started a movement and in the months after, various parties in Eindhoven got together in a steering committee. There, students, policy makers and the involved educational institutes talk with each other about how to solve the issues surrounding the Eindhoven housing shortage.
TU/e alumna Eva de Bruijn is in the local council for political party GroenLinks. She came to the protest to hear the experiences of the various students so that she could represent their voice in the city council. She wants to specifically stand up for the international students and raise awareness for the #dutchonly problem. In the meantime she has responded with a 'motion' in the city council. "The Eindhoven student accommodation covenant will be updated in the beginning of this year and a rental team will be set up to help students stand up for their housing rights."
'We Want Woonruimte'
The student protest We Want Woonruimte was started in Eindhoven by students of the Design Academy, but all Eindhoven students are faced with the same problems. Helen Milne is co-organizer of the We Want Woonruimte Eindhoven protest. She lived in a holiday park herself for a while, but finally found a room. "I knew about twenty students who also lived in the holiday park and came from different colleges and universities." Matilde Losi, a student at the Design Academy, tells Cursor that there are students living on campsites. "With such a living space they cannot register with the municipality." Gavin Jones, also a DA student, endorses this: "The booking system for the holiday homes where I lived offered a maximum rental period of three weeks. If you wanted to stay longer, you had to change houses. These places are not intended for normal habitation, only as a holiday residence."
The room shortage and the energy it takes to get to a room are a source of frustration. Losi: "We bring money to this city because we come to study here and we want to be busy with our studies, not with where we can find our next shelter. The schools recruit students, but have no place for them to live."
Chira: "They just need to build more, especially in the social rental sector. You must now be lucky to find an affordable place. Yet I do not think the university is responsible for that, students have to arrange a home themselves." Patrick Groothuis, ESA director, agrees with him: "Of course we have a responsibility, but we do not guarantee students a room. We are in contact with other parties such as the municipality of Eindhoven, Fontys and Vestide, to come up with ideas together to solve this problem. But our core business is research and education, not building and renting out living spaces. There is also a legal restriction for us. We are trying to facilitate it. To do so, we work together with external parties that build and operate housing. If such a living space is on campus, like the residential towers Luna and Aurora, we have a say in the target group that can live there. The residents must have a connection with the campus."
Milne now lives in an anti-squat room. But that is also not a structural solution given the one month notice period for the landlord in her contract. She is realistic about the situation: "I understand that such a big problem is not solved in one day, but we have to think about alternative short-term solutions until we have solved the problem structurally. It is simply not possible that students live in tents or on the couch of another student. We have been having good contact with the municipality since the protest. They listen to us now. The ideas for a steering committee and rental team in Eindhoven are received well and there is hope for the future."
Additional residential towers on the TU/e campus
The TU/e is open to a third residential tower on campus to contribute to a solution, but the university will not build or operate it itself. Groothuis: "If the municipality cooperates, we would be very positive about one or two additional residential towers for students and staff on campus. Third parties may submit a proposal for this, as Hurks recently did. "In Hurks’ plan, the new residential tower should be placed on the sports fields of the campus. It must become a building for living, working and learning. In the 30,000 square meter building, at least 250 student residences and 140 short-stay rooms should be realized. Hurks hopes to be able to start the project at the end of this year and completion could possibly already be in 2021, according to Eindhovens Dagblad.
(More) people living on campus has consequences for safety. Head of Safety & Security Peter Bloemers acknowledges that: "Especially the dynamics in the night shift have changed. We always have 24/7 occupancy of security on campus. In the past, the lights used to go out in the evening, figuratively speaking. Now the work just goes on all night. If there used to be a car at the barrier at 3 o'clock in the morning we immediately thought: 'what would he be up to?' Now that situation is very normal. More people on campus also means more incidents. This also changes the type of incidents. Where we first had to deal with technical incidents, there are now also domestic incidents. We sometimes have to play mom and dad."
"The field of security has become much more diverse and shifted from arresting crooks to making things possible. When we look at the real estate plan 'Campus 2030', we’ll become a lively city campus where living, working and recreation come together. We need to take a close look at the risks that arise as a result of this and how we’ll manage these. There are events taking place at the location, people are huddled together. One wants to study, the other wants to party. That does not always go well together. Where the campus changes, security has to change accordingly, but I feel confident about the future."
When the new tower rises on campus exactly, is unclear. But at least we know that the rooms will be filled in no time....