Organisation - October 22, 2009

Breeding ground: What is squatting to Wageningen?

Last Thursday, the Second Chamber (lower house of the Dutch parliament) gave the go ahead to a bill that bans squatting. Many feel that this marks the end of an era. What’s going to give way?

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André Vermeer, housing unit
'Squatting in Wageningen has indeed provided more housing for students and first-timers. The current squatting ban will lead to more anti-squatting and more empty properties. The problem with anti-squatting is that a maximum of three persons are allowed to occupy a property which could fit more in. Above all, an anti-squatter has hardly any tenancy rights, and pays much money living out an unspecified period of time in a property under a one-sided contract.
'Soon, property owners will have less pressure to put their properties to good use. The same would probably happen to the university premises of Wageningen UR. It's unfair that people cling on to the stereotype image of a squatter as painted in the media: someone who does not pay rent and is idle all the time. This isn't the case actually. I'm afraid that the squatting ban will lead to a hardening of this climate.'
Annemiek Arkestijn, regional manager of Koepel Childcare Centre
'Childcare in Wageningen owes its existence to the squatting movement. When I needed childcare for my eldest daughter in the 1980's, there weren't any childcare facilities in Wageningen at all. Several parents took matters into their own hands and started childcare in the Tien Zilverlingen, a squatter premise. The place was actually not very suitable for this purpose. Luckily, the municipality stepped in and saw the need to provide a better place so that childcare could become more professional.
It's a sorry state when initiatives like these, which could bring about major achievements, are being nipped in the bud.  Another example: It's still very difficult to start a new company nowadays, and first-timers don't get loans that easily. A squatter property will give them that needed leeway to begin, and that leads to more employment.'
Cox Merkelijn - Involved in the Wageningen squatter movement as council member and alderman in the 1980's; now a lawyer
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The squatter movement in Wageningen had led to a number of good initiatives in the 1980's, among which was the appearance of Wilde Wereld, which, even today, houses a theatre and homes. In the seventies too, squatters occupied a number of monumental buildings on the Heerenstraat and thoroughly tidied these up. That had prompted the Municipality of Wageningen to give them a full restoration. These houses were not livable before and in sorry states. The squatter movement had therefore played a part in making something out of them. The Tien Zilverlingen at the corner of the Markt and the Hoogstraat was taken over by squatters at the end of the seventies. This became a squatters' stronghold, a place where many squatters gathered to carry out activities. This built up a communal feeling. However, the owner insisted that they had to leave, took out a court order and won his case. But the then mayor refused to evict the squatters and the owner next took out a court order on the mayor. He won this suit as well, and the premises were cleared.  I don't know exactly what the squatting ban will bring with it, but various municipalities have already indicated that it would be difficult to enforce.'
Niels van den Berge, former squatter
Squatting has played a major role in Wageningen in refugee care. In 2006, we took over an empty apartment complex on the Kolkakkerweg called 'de Draaikolk' with a group of activists. It provided accommodation for refugees who were denied asylum. Partly because of what we did, the municipality and the housing association were pressured to support the social initiative 'Ons pardon'. We helped the refugees not only to find a roof over their heads, but also in legal procedures. The squatter movement in Wageningen has always been successful in preventing unoccupancy. Squatter premises have also acquired importance as cultural breeding grounds. They give bands and drama groups space to practice in, and artists, their studios. Besides, squatter premises also fulfill a social need. They are often major meeting places for people. There were weekly pancake get-togethers for refugees in the Draaikolk and its neighbourhood population. The squatting ban will take the heat off from property owners, and unoccupancy will loom.
Judith, Arend en René of restaurant 'Vreemde Streken', former Wageningen squatters
'Squatting provides affordable accommodation, and in some cases, simply a roof over your head. In the past, the squatter movement was dominated by political leftists. It also smacked of a particular life-style. We protested against apartheid in South Africa and the bio-industry. We made conscious choices to become vegetarian, organic and fair-trade in our food. But most of all, there was a lot of camaraderie. We were also very politically minded and involved in the city and the society. Thus, the squatter community had perhaps made modest contributions to the rather leftist Wageningen in those days. There are many good initiatives as a result of the squatter movement. The squatting ban identified squatting as the problem, whereas the problem lies really in the scarcity of housing for the youth and first-timers.' 
Wout Eijkelkamp, student of International Development and squatter in the house 'Truchslag' on the Churchillweg
'Squatting is a means to prevent unoccupancy, and that happens also in Wageningen. Since the student flat Rijnsteeg was demolished, very little has been built for students. You have to pay almost three hundred euros for a room from Idealis. If someone has five empty properties, he or she also has a social responsibility to do something useful with them. It's really annoying for the homeless to cycle around Wageningen and see so many empty and derelict premises. It's a big misconception that squatters are ruffians. In fact, once we've taken over a building, we try to contact the owner. We pay for gas and electricity and we take care of the building. If the owner plans to use the building seriously, the squatters will leave. This legislative proposal uses scare tactics. But as long as the need arises, squatting will go on. To solve the problem, the government has to provide affordable housing. I'm afraid that when squatting is made illegal, the climate will be hardened.'  /Amrish Baidjoe and Joris Tielens

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