SSH signals change for international housing
Student parties in the university council see the takeover is a good opportunity to make substantial changes. SOG thinks the issues facing international housing are three-fold: the Housing Office itself, finding accommodation and the cost of housing. Now that SSH is in control, part one is being addressed.
The Housing Office website has been replaced by www.sshxl.nl/en and, as of 4 January, there’s a new office location at Sint Jansstraat 4. SSH is already beginning to make changes, but there is some doubt about how meaningful they are so far.
Take the registration fee. According to SSH communications advisor Annemiek van Vondel, from now on, registration is free. However, students will be charged when they have been assigned a room, and the cost of the newly named ‘reservation fee’ remains the same: 275 euros. Taku Mutezo, the international student representative in the council, argues that more clarity about what goes into that price is needed, as well as the possibility to bring it to a more affordable level.
Another big issue is how international students are effectively segregated from the rest of the city by being placed in housing together. Van Vondel says that SSH is open to changing that. ‘At the moment, we don’t have any concrete plans for doing so, but we’re not ruling out anything.’ Taku says that SSH’s reputation for handling Dutch and international housing in cities like Utrecht gives her hope that better integration is on the horizon.
But Education and Students policy maker Jan Wolthuis seems to accept that some segregation is inevitable. ‘As such, there’s not much point in trying to control that or to adopt new rules against it. But if problems exist, we will see if there is anything we can do.’
Perhaps the most significant change that SSH brings to the table is a more detailed reservation system. Van Vondel believes that, thanks to a model based on booking.com where students choose specific rooms rather than listing their preferences for housing, there will be fewer ‘mismatches’ and less demand for students to move rooms. ‘They can, however, move to another room in another SSH facility in Groningen as long as there is one available. The costs are not yet known, but we will figure that out in the coming weeks.’
With the new site, ‘a student can view the room, the floor plan and the location of the building.’ Be that as it may, students still know very little about the neighborhood where their house is located and how much noise pollution may be present.
While president Poppema is optimistic that SSH’s takeover is a step in the right direction, he recognizes that the student rental situation comes down to simple economics. ‘Why aren’t there better rooms for less money? The reality is that the prices of the rooms are limited by demand.’
‘Groningen is not even close to the most expensive city, nor is it the city with the worst housing shortage’, he says. For international students, that’s little comfort. But in 2015, SSH will begin assessing which of the 15 international student houses to keep and renovate, sell, or tear down and replace. By increasing and improving supply, SSH may be better able to meet the demand of the ever growing international student population – hopefully, that will also mean more affordable rent for the students.