On February 8th, NovUM had the pleasure and honor to invite representatives from the university, the municipality and the student body to shed light on the housing issue in Maastricht. The panel debate was informative and allowed for students to ask questions to the correct bodies and decision-makers. Present were the Head Department of Student Housing, Maurice Evers; Thomas Gardien, councilor ‘Burgerraadslid’ in the municipality; Student Housing Now, established in Maastricht a few months back; and the Director of the SSC, Margriet Schreuders.
Representing the students, the newly founded Student Housing Now explained how this issue is an issue not limited to Maastricht, but a nation-wide issue due to failed policies that have festered in Maastricht; few regulations for purchases, population growth, and limited land have left Maastricht with way less housing than it needs. Student Housing Now challenged both the university and the municipality, who both have been criticized for not taking responsibility and rather pointing at each other to tackle the crisis. They also drew attention to the fact that the university estimates that it will continue to expand and accept more students, and that there is very little certainty about whether there will be remedies in place for the anticipated growth in the student body mass.
Thomas Gardien, who brought insights from the municipality, admitted that the interests of the students in the council are not sufficiently represented. There is a housing programme spanning from 2021 to 2030 in place to improve the situation but unless the representation of students increases in the council their concerns will simply not have that much weight on a municipal level. Moreover, landlords are free to rent out to whomever they’d like, and the municipality has no tools they can use to incentivize rentals to students. A similar solution, however, would be to incentivize developers to build social and public housing rather than private housing. Thomas also pointed out that there is an issue with lack of data and reporting, so the municipality currently has measly foundations on which they can make decisions. Another big challenge is the financial perspective: housing and construction is expensive, and the city councils have other interests that are given priority in their budgets as well.
The head of the department of housing and the Student Services Centre provided the students with insight in how the university works to ensure housing. The university faces a situation where they by law aren’t allowed to impose a numerus fixus to their programs, and therefore, a cap cannot be introduced. It is as such difficult to predict accurately how many students that will enroll. The department also explained that their mandate is limited: The university does not provide housing itself, so the department can offer advice and guidance to students who are searching for housing, but finding accommodation is the responsibility of each student. Student Housing Now pointed at the lack of bodies and services students can use to access information about housing via the university, and the university agreed that there currently isn’t enough resources in place to adequately provide students with information; as a student, it simply isn’t clear enough what rights you have and where you can seek advice.
An issue many students who come to Maastricht faces is discrimination and scams. Both the university and municipality acknowledge that the pressure in the housing market has given rise to these problems. While there are few possible mechanisms for intervention, the university can introduce information services and allocate resources to assist the students. The municipality can, on their side, introduce mechanisms and services students can report to when they encounter either discrimination or scamming.
Student Housing Now, the municipality and the representatives from the universities all agreed that the long-term changes would lie in increased infrastructure and systemic change, and currently, no clear solution is in sight. Maastricht is subject to a national system of decentralization where municipalities have been given increased responsibility and decision-making power in matters of housing. For small cities with limited budgets and resources, a complex issue like the coordination of construction can become too big of a task. The parties in the city and stakeholders in housing development must also work to remove the divisive rhetoric which has created an artificial disconnect between students and the locals: An improvement in housing would benefit all actors who have an interest in this matter. The municipality must collaborate with the students and university to collect data and information about the extent of the issue; there should be streamlined systems where reports to the university are brought up on a municipal level. While no cohesive conclusions or strategies emanated from the debate, NovUM strongly believes that these conversations will be imperative to drive forward solutions further down the road, and we hope to have given all interested parties food for thought.