During the introduction week, the Housing Coalition in Nijmegen launched a couch surfing network to help international students with temporary shelter. At this moment, several internationals and hosts have been matched. However, more internationals than hosts have signed up.
To help international students with housing, the Housing Coalition Nijmegen has, as of two weeks ago, set up a couch surfing network. Everyone who wants to help can sign up as a host to provide an extra room or couch as a temporary shelter for an international student. ‘This way they will not end up on the street or a camping while they are looking for a permanent residence’, says Mo Quirijnen, chairman of student union AKKU and member of Housing Coalition Nijmegen. So far, about thirty internationals and ten hosts have signed up. Quirijnen hopes that the highest urgency for temporary housing will be over within two months. ‘We cannot sustain this forever, nor do we have enough hosts for that.’
Two days ago, the national monitor for student housing 2022 was published, which showed that Nijmegen has a very tight housing market for students. Many internationals have trouble finding a room as well. The Radboud University (RU) does provide housing mediation for first-year students, but the requirements are very selective’, says Quirijnen. ‘Additionally, the largest problem concerns internationals who are here for their second year,’ claims the chairman. ‘They get a one-year contract for their first year which they cannot cancel and they have to get out of their room en masse in August.’
Trouble with housing
First-year students who meet the requirements are eligible for room mediation. ‘There are quite some students who are helped by this, but there is also a large group which falls by the wayside’, says Quirijnen. Students who live within 350 kilometer of the campus are not eligible for room mediation. They live close enough to commute, according to the RU. ‘Sometimes, they have to travel five hours just to get here’, says the chairman. ‘That is not a sustainable situation when you are going to study here. Especially not now that all lectures are in person.’
However, the largest problem concerns the second-year international students who received a short stay contract last year, according to Quirijnen. ‘They cannot cancel their contract for a one-year period, can barely sublet unless they can find a room in a SSH& building and have to find something from exactly the date their contract ends onwards, or they have to pay double rent’, claims the chairman. Furthermore, internationals often do not get the chance to rent a room in Dutch student houses, which makes it even harder to find a residence.
When you sign up for the network you will get a form to let the organisation know your preferences. For example, if you are okay with a person smoking. ‘We will then do an intake to ask what people expect and to set clear boundaries’, says Quirijnen. ‘Then we try to match people on that basis.’
Students are not paid for hosting. ‘In principle, it is on a basis of solidarity’, he says. ‘We only facilitate the match and they have to make it work themselves’, says Quirijnen. This way, they can negotiate among themselves whether they will share the costs of living and how long the international student can stay. As of now, there are not enough hosts to help every international who signed up. ‘It is a big step for people, but some do realize that someone may otherwise have to sleep on the street.’
No emergency housing
The Housing Coalition Nijmegen keeps promoting the project and will continue to put pressure on educational institutions, the municipality and SSH& in structural ways. ‘We would prefer to see educational institutions cleaning up their own mess and not postponing the problem’, says Quirijnen. ‘They have to provide emergency housing’, he says. ‘Now, international students can go nowhere for free and there are many people who cannot pay to stay in an Airbnb for a couple of weeks.’ If the negotiations with the educational institutions lead nowhere, there will be loud actions according to Qurijnen.
This article was published in Dutch on September 9th 2022.