Students
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No long-term housing for internationals

Homeless, again


Even veteran international students who knew exactly what to expect from the Groningen housing market are struggling to find a room. ‘Housing here is the like The Bachelorette. Only in my case, it was a random Dutch Oma who gave me a rose.’
By Megan Embry, Felipe Silva, Edward Szekeres, and Matej Pop-Duchev

Incoming international students this year have been lucky: no one is sleeping in a tent camp. The university and municipality managed to head off the housing crisis that students faced last year, and demand for emergency housing is already starting to drop off. But having a roof over your head is one thing; having a suitable, long-term living solution is another. Even veteran international students are struggling to find a permanent room. As the new term starts, many are homeless for their second or third time.

Three UKrant freelancers – two of whom have covered the housing crisis in Groningen for the past year – wanted to share their stories of housing vulnerability in an act of solidarity with the other internationals still on couches and air mattresses all over town.

Felipe Silva

MA Pharmaceutical drug innovation, Brazil

It’s really ironic that an UKrant journalist, who covered multiple stories about the housing crisis in Groningen, still struggles to find a place to live in this city. My name is Luís Felipe Fonseca Silva, and a year ago I was featured in an article about internationals trying to find housing from abroad.

My journey started 9260 kilometres away and three houses ago. There I was, hiding in the laundry room of the pharmaceutical company I worked for in Brazil, taking Skype interviews with potential roommates. The interviews unfolded like a low-budget version of The Bachelorette, with me trying desperately to woo people into giving me a room and everyone on the other side of the screen quietly making up their minds to save their coveted housing rose for a nice Dutch girl.

After a month and a half of draining my mobile internet data, I landed a room in a student building for six months. When those six months were up, I got unexpectedly lucky: one of my neighbours decided to backpack Asia for six months and needed to sublet her room. So I dragged all of my life’s possessions down the hallway in two suitcases to a fancy new room that had a chandelier above the bed. So bougie!

Curse

But my emotional rollercoaster was not over. I started hunting for my next room only four months later. At that point I truly believed that during one of the multiple near-death experiences I’d had biking around the city, some angry Dutch person had put a curse on me. I was doomed to permanent, cyclical homelessness. I should give up and just sleep in my lab at the UMCG.

Then a little old Dutch lady saved my life – as they do. She heard about my situation from a friend and offered to rent me her son’s old bedroom for next to nothing. I never really imagined that my coolest university roommate would be a low-key badass three times my age who visits Austria every year to shred ski slopes. Groningen is full of surprises.

But I still haven’t managed to crack the code to finding long-term stable housing in Groningen. In a few months I will leave the city for a short internship in Belgium. When I return, I’ll be right back where I started: international and homeless.

Edward Szekeres

MA Journalism, Slovakia

It’s been a year since I moved to this city, which locals like to call the ‘Pride of the North’. And it’s true, Groningen is a great city full of spectacular parks and canals, environmentally conscious activists and sexually adventurous slackers. But not everything here inspires pride, especially not the underwhelming football results or the frustrating housing shortage.

In a single year I’ve moved five times. That’s once every 73 days, more often than an average person goes to the movies. The two battered suitcases that contain all of my worldly possessions are the only constant in my life. Unpacking would be optimistic, and I’m no longer an optimist. Right now a friend is letting me sleep on an air mattress on his floor in exchange for housework and a steady supply of fawning gratitude. But I’ve been here for two weeks and I can tell my welcome is wearing thin. It’s time to take these suitcases somewhere new.

Of all the internationals in the city, I should have a fighting chance on the market. I’m now a well-connected local journalist with friends and professional contacts all over the place. My main reporting beat? Housing.

Masochist

Trust me, I’ve tried everything. When I arrived last September, I moved into a hotel for a couple of nights. I was there for three weeks. Alone in that hotel room, my hopes and my bank account bottomed out. Luckily, I met a young couple who offered to let me crash on their couch ‘for a few days’ while I got on my feet. I stayed on that couch for three months.

Readers, have you ever been to a hospis? If you’re a masochist, you should totally try one. It’s a Hunger Games style group room viewing. All you have to do is convince potential flatmates to pick you by standing out from the rest of the crowd. You’re the coolest; you’re the chillest. ‘Sure, I love when people eat my food without asking! I’m happy to do all the cooking and cleaning! You can totally bring your Tinder date home to my room because yours is dirty!’ But the deck is stacked against you. You are usually up against fifteen other Dutch people, and everyone is desperate. The room goes to whoever sells his soul for the lowest price.

When I finally did find a proper room, it was a two-month sublet. The next move, I got to stay in one place for a whole four months. Now that summer is over, I’m back on a perpetually deflated air mattress. Who knows, maybe I will just stay here on the floor for good. Once bitten, twice shy.

Matej Pop-Duchev

BA Medicine, Macedonia

My life on the streets began afresh at the end of June, when I moved out of my previous residence – a dysfunctional, overcrowded, and always noisy flat infested with rats and cockroaches. The decision to leave was quite easy really, in spite of the looming threat of the impending housing crisis. I just couldn’t take the overcrowding in that place. Noteworthy as well was the constant odour and the sheer convenience of sharing four less-than-dependable washing machines with 300 other people.

Looking for affordable housing is just as painful as I remember it from my early days in Groningen. Facebook housing groups have proven completely useless, and so have online housing platforms and agencies. The fact that I haven’t physically been in Groningen for the better part of summer – as well as that I have been studying for a summer resit – hasn’t helped either.

Grim prospects

Eventually, I realised that I’d have to cut my already depressingly short summer even shorter and come back to the Netherlands to look for housing in person. Fast forward a couple of weeks: the summer has ended, class has started, I am still homeless, and my housing prospects seem as grim as ever.

But it’s not all doom and gloom: this year, the university and municipality, together with student and housing organisations, have provided emergency hostel-like shelters for the unfortunate and the latecomers. In an interesting turn of events, one of these emergency solutions turned out to be the same space that I grew to hate so much and made up my mind to escape for good at the end of June: the Esdoornflat. But now, a room will cost me 100 euros more a month than I paid before.

Unlike the newest batch of international students, I don’t feel existentially threatened by my homeless status – at least not yet. Mostly I just feel annoyed that I will have to spend the beginning of the academic year couch surfing, testing the patience of my friend, and praying to the gods of the housing market for an affordable room before exams. But this is Groningen, so I’m staying cautiously skeptical.

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