News - September 28, 2017

All I want is a room somewhere

Stijn van Gils

All the students who had priority because they live far away now have a roof over their heads in Wageningen, but many others are still looking for rooms. Some are camping; some are sharing small rooms. Or spending hours on public transport every day. ‘I’m afraid my results are going to suffer.’

This caravan is first-year BSc student Merel van Moorst’s temporary home. Photos Guy Ackermans

There is a relaxed atmosphere at the Wielerbaan campsite on the Zoomweg in Wageningen. Merel van Moorst, first-year student of Communication and Life Sciences, is sitting in her caravan. Her door is open, making it easy for three other first-years who pass by to greet her. Actually, Merel is quite enjoying her temporary home. ‘I’ve got my own space and that’s very nice.’

Merel is not the only student camping at the Wielerbaan for want of a room. Exactly how many students there are, the campsite staff are not sure. ‘When we get a booking we don’t know whether the guest is a student,’ says staff member Birgit Fransen in an email. The best guess is that there are currently about 20 students camping there. They are not allowed to stay very long: a maximum of two or three months. ‘We don’t want our holidaymakers being inconvenienced by people staying at the campsite longer term.’

Sheer luck
If it’s up to Merel, though, she won’t be here long. She hopes to find a room soon, before it gets really cold. ‘New rooms show up on Facebook regularly. Actually I should respond to them much more often, but on the other hand, there are already so many people doing so.’

In the first few weeks of the academic year, it is the survival of the fittest on the Wageningen student housing market. Certainly for Dutch students, there was little point just knocking on student housing provider Idealis’s door. Idealis was struggling to accommodate even the priority students from far away – all international students and Dutch students living more than 130 kilometres from the campus. No, this year finding a room in Wageningen right from the start was a matter of sheer luck. An attic room found through friends of friends, a lucky match on Facebook, or a parent who could afford to buy an apartment.

Buying an apartment is nothing new, but it is a growing trend. ‘We are seeing more parents buying something for their student son or daughter, as a result of which there is much less low-cost housing on the market now,’ says Glenn Muller of Jeltes ten Hoor estate agents. The figures he emails bear this out. A year ago about 90 apartments in the 90,000 to 175,000 euro price range had been sold in the previous year (August to August). This year, 150 such apartments changed hands in the same period. So apartments at the lower end of the market are very hard to come by now.

For Simone – not her real name – this buying up of low-cost housing is a problem. She graduated one and a half years ago and is now working near Wageningen. Because she can’t find an alternative, she is still living in her Idealis room. ‘There is hardly anything available for graduates. Houses on the Funda real estate website get bought or rented within a day. The housing corporation has a long waiting list. There are very few home-sharing groups and it is not easy to get into the few there are.’

Hanging on
Out of necessity, Simone is hanging on to her Idealis room a bit longer. That is not allowed, officially, but Idealis often doesn’t notice who is outstaying their welcome. To stay off the radar, ‘Simone’ prefers to remain anonymous and not to say where she lives. ‘I do feel guilty sometimes but I can’t see any other option. And I’m certainly not the only one.’

Idealis doesn’t know how many graduates are hanging on to their rooms. ‘We don’t get the impression that it is happening systematically,’ says spokesperson Hellen Albers. ‘We usually know when someone is graduating.’ Yet this summer Idealis offered 100 euros to anyone who voluntarily gave up their room. And the housing provider is now asking students to send in a copy of their WUR registration for 2017-2018. Because the number of rooms vacated this year is lower than expected, says Albers.

Which is unfortunate, because the room shortage due to the continued growth in student numbers is bigger than in previous years. ‘Mainly because the more than 300 rooms planned at Kortenoord are not ready yet.’

In spite of all this, the level of response to Idealis rooms has gone down a bit, says Albers, because students have found other options, whether temporary or longer term. Albers: ‘We have provided all international students with rooms. We are now working on accommodating all the others who have registered with us.’

MSc student Dewy Verhoeven and his girlfriend are sharing this little room, rented from a landlady.
MSc student Dewy Verhoeven and his girlfriend are sharing this little room, rented from a landlady.

A room at last
And indeed, several of the room-hunting first-years who filled in the Resource survey on the room shortage now report that they have since found decent accommodation. One of them is Dewy Verhoeven from Landgraaf in South Limburg. The new MSc student of Environmental Sciences and his girlfriend are still sharing a small room at the moment but they have found an apartment in Ede which they can move into on 1 November. ‘It is one of the few places where they accept students in ordinary apartments, as long as the parents act as guarantors. We are very happy with it.’

Job Dirkman is still commuting every day between Voorburg, near the coast, and Wageningen. ‘First the bus to Gouda, then the train to Utrecht, change for Ede-Wageningen and then the bus. It’s almost impossible to have any social life in Wageningen. But I am super-lucky because soon I can move into an Idealis room on the Marijkeweg.’

Commuting students
Not everyone has such luck. More students than ever are commuting between their parental homes and Wageningen. The Syntus bus drivers have noticed yet another increase in the number of passengers. ‘There are more every year,’ says communications advisor Hanneke Ruiter. ‘So we are temporarily-permanently running extra-long buses.’

Christian Snik from Tilburg spends at least five hours a day on public transport.
Christian Snik from Tilburg spends at least five hours a day on public transport.

Christian Snik is a commuting student and he is not happy about it. He travels every day from Tilburg to Wageningen via Den Bosch, Arnhem and Ede-Wageningen. ‘It takes me at least 2.5 hours. I can read a bit between Tilburg and Arnhem, but the rest of the journey is all short legs. It takes me even longer on the way back. I’m afraid my results are going to suffer. I shudder at the thought of still not having a room during exams week. But I have no immediate prospects and it’s not easy to take part in interview dinners in student houses either, because I have to catch the bus on time.’