Coming together for housing
The discussion focused on the current student housing situation, including quality of housing, prices, communication with and responsiveness of the housing organisations, and transparency. The panel, which took place without a public audience, was hosted by Phillipe Moreau, a student of international communications at the Hanze University of Applied Sciences. Filling out the panel were Jan Wolthuis from the University of Groningen and Nikolet Wit from the Hanze University of Applied Sciences, representatives from SSH, the University Council student faction and student union, GROBOS, the municipality, and seven international students.
Quality and price
Moreau opened the panel by sharing the results of a survey he conducted on student satisfaction with their housing situation. The results showed that most respondents consider housing quality and rental price as the most important factors for their satisfaction, followed by communication with and responsiveness of the housing organisations.
However, the definition of what constitutes quality housing may be up for debate. ‘We must give a definition to the word ‘quality’ before we can start talking about improving it’, says Michiel de Boer, policy advisor for the Municipality of Groningen. Jolien Stokroos, SSH team manager for the city of Groningen, says that in their own survey, quality was defined ‘in terms of affordable prices, private facilities, good services, and location’.
For the international students present at the panel, good quality was first and foremost connected with lower prices. ‘The amount of rent I was paying when living in Diaconessenhouse did not correspond to the quality of the building and the living conditions’, says Iman Figueroa, a student at the Hanze in international business. ‘But since I moved to Frascati, I feel like the price is more in line with the quality of the rooms and facilities’.
Information as solution
The international students on the panel were eager to share their housing experiences and voice their expectations, and the second half of the conversation invited all panelists to pitch ideas for possible solutions and ways to improve on those fronts.
More clarity in the way information about the different options for student accommodation was a main point of discussion. One suggestion by the panel was to create a platform where the municipality, SSH, and the universities could share all necessary information for prospective international students to make the best choice when searching for accommodation.
Another way of providing information would be to conduct yet another survey focusing on students’ individual preferences and priorities. ‘For some students, location is more important than private facilities or lower prices and vice versa’, says Victoria Karpova, a RUG student in economics.
During the discussion, the need for clearer information about how SSH actually operates also became apparent. ‘SSH keeps the prices high and gives no options to students to break out of their short-stay contract, because everybody knows at this stage that they are a for-profit organization’, says Nick Bootsma, a student at the University College Groningen.
Stokroos corrected the misunderstanding and clarified that SSH is a non-profit housing organisation and all the revenue they make goes straight to building maintenance and services.
Implementing any solutions will require time, however. Roeland van der Schaaf, alderman for the municipality of Groningen, says, ‘New houses are already here, for example the Student Hotel in the northern part of the city. But Groningen is becoming more and more internationalised and we will need the time to build new and better accommodations for international students.’
As the evening drew to a close, the panelists expressed their commitment to continuing to closely follow the housing situation and reconvening at some point in the future for further discussions.