SAM: ‘We must join forces to fix the student housing shortage’
The student housing crisis has become a familiar struggle in Tilburg, hitting international students particularly hard. Despite efforts, newly arrived internationals continue to face homelessness and exclusion from ‘Dutch only’ student houses. Student party SAM wants to team up with the university, the city and other stakeholders to make real and lasting changes.
In a proposal delivered to the board of executives on Friday, student party SAM asked the university to join its initiative to tackle the student housing shortage in Tilburg.
The housing shortage is putting a crunch on the growing number of students from abroad. When lectures started at the beginning of this academic year, many newly arrived internationals were still desperately looking for accommodation. It was not the first time that international students were forced to sleep in emergency accommodations or on fellow students’ spare mattresses. For several years, the housing shortage has been a recurring problem.
According to SAM, finger-pointing over who is to blame for the recurring student housing crisis in Tilburg is counterproductive. Instead, all parties involved should work together to prevent a new wave of homeless internationals. “Important steps have been taken in recent years, but it’s not moving quickly enough,” says SAM board member Koen van Wijngaarden. “We all need to take a more proactive approach to work towards short-term and long-term solutions.”
In the last university council, student party SAM made a proposal to the executive board. This proposal entailed forming a committee to jointly address the tight housing market that has made it increasingly difficult for overseas students to find affordable accommodation in Tilburg. “We want this committee to include representatives of the student community, the municipality, the international office, the housing office and external stakeholders such as International Center Tilburg.”
One month after the start of the academic year, the most urgent problems seem to have been resolved. The bunk beds in hostel Roots are no longer occupied by wandering international students. Housing officer Elisa de Klerk informed Univers that while she is still assisting approximately ten students in finding a permanent place to stay, most of Tilburg University’s new internationals have found accommodation by now.
“We have to take action now, not when problems start to arise again”
The apparent absence of urgent problems is no reason to sit back and relax, SAM argues. To avoid another housing crisis at the start of the spring semester, when a new wave of students will arrive in Tilburg, both the university and the city must make it a priority to take measures. “This is obviously not a problem that can be fixed in a few months, but it’s important that we act proactively, not reactively. That means we have to take action now, not when problems start to arise again.”
Although increasing the supply of student accommodation is evidently needed, building more student flats should not be the only objective on the long term. “To make lasting change, it’s important that we also look at deeper issues, such as the integration of international students,” Van Wijngaarden says. “For example, the phenomenon of ‘Dutch only’ housing ads is an important structural problem that needs to be addressed.”
The overcrowded student housing market is not the only reason why internationals have difficulty finding accommodation. Many Dutch students are reluctant to take in roommates from abroad, drastically reducing the availability of student rooms for overseas students. “For students in Tilburg, the primary housing platform is a Facebook group which counts over 30,000 members. In this group, a majority of the student housing offers open with a statement saying ‘Dutch only’.”
“That’s not in line with Tilburg’s aspirations to be an international and inclusive environment,” Van Wijngaarden adds. “Since those aspirations are shared by both the university and the city, we hope they will also share in the responsibility to solve problems that stand in the way of achieving a welcoming environment for students from abroad.”