Kim Lechler, a 24-years-old Master’s student from Berlin, had so much trouble finding affordable housing in Amsterdam that she even considered commuting from the German capital of Berlin. The solution she found is hardly more conventional, living in a big tent in the Camping Zeeburg campsite for two weeks until she could move into a temporary room for the next month.
While Lechler’s solution is certainly unusual, her problem is not. Like many big cities, the Dutch capital is experiencing a general shortage of housing. The causes for this crisis are numerous and range from the popularity of the city to the lack of building space. Many surroundings of Amsterdam are protected natural areas, lands that cannot support major construction, or simply part of other towns that are unwilling to give up their land to solve the issues of their big neighbour. The city of Amsterdam, increasingly becoming a victim of its own popularity, thus has to fight the housing crisis on its own, highly limited soil. The attractiveness of the city’s two universities,VU University Amsterdam and University of Amsterdam, means that there is an increasing number of students finding themselves caught up in the highly competitive arena of the Amsterdam housing market.
This leads to many students being caught up in temporary arrangements, hopping from one house to another quite frequently. Laura Weller, a student at Utrecht University who grew up in Amsterdam and wanted to stay in her hometown despite studying in Utrecht, has applied to about 150 housing ads on Facebook, while also searching through conventional housing platforms, and was invited to a viewing at only about 15 places. While she felt that many of those accommodations did not suit her basic requirements, the dire situation on the market forced her to apply to any available house anyway. Her current home also is temporary, giving her time until January to find a new place to stay. Despite this situation, she emphasises the relevance of feeling at home in her house, saying that “the house must not feel like a temporary lodge”.
For international students, especially those moving to Amsterdam from their home countries, looking for a home can often be even more frustrating thanks to language barriers and not being able to attend viewings in person. This is why the University of Amsterdam supports its international students by reserving rooms at Amsterdam’s big student housing corporations, but considering this city’s student population, demand exceeds supply by far. As a consequence, the criteria for allocation seem often hard to understand and somewhat frustrating to students. Major student housing platforms like Room.nl employ a waitlist system, which allocates houses to the applicants having waited for housing the longest. Applicant numbers are high, often above 100 for apartments closer to Amsterdam Centrum, and members have to wait multiple years before they manage to get a place.
Gijsbert Mul understands both sides of the issue. His daughter studies in Amsterdam and has experienced the tough housing market of the city, while Mul himself is the Head of Public Affairs at the non-profit student housing corporation DUWO. His organisation is the largest student housing corporation of the Netherlands and rents out affordable housing to students while cooperating with Amsterdam’s universities to provide accommodation to international students. However, despite him believing that the cooperation between social housing corporations, universities and local government is working well, DUWO estimates the shortage of rooms for students to be between 10,000 and 14,000 rooms in Amsterdam alone by 2024. If all actors are cooperating nicely, why is the number so high, and why is it unlikely to go down?
Mul points out the number of issues that universities and local authorities have to address. He states the Amsterdam Science Park as an example, which hosts not only the UvA’s science faculties but also circa 1300 students. There would be space for an additional complex of housing for hundreds of students at Science Park, however, the university wants to use the space for research and teaching facilities and cooperates with DUWO to build temporary housing in the city centre instead. As much as Mul appreciates the effort, he says that a bigger scale is required to address the current problem. The temporary housing units at Oudemanhuispoort can accommodate around hundred students for five years which is useful, but to a little degree considering the number of students looking for accommodation.
In the current situation, he is pessimistic. Students need to compete with multiple factors for attention, while housing corporations work closely together with the universities and student unions to impact local politics in favour of more student housing. He says that all parties are aware of the problem, constructing housing takes time and there is a delay of three to five years between project and realisation. In the meantime, DUWO attempts to alleviate the issue with temporary housing, but this can hardly provide the 10,000 required rooms in a short time. Mul’s final advice to prospective students in these conditions is rather easy, “Start looking early, and don’t shy away from a place further away from the city centre – living in Haarlem, Hoofddorp or Almere is better than not finding a place at all.”