Maastricht University needs to take responsibility for the current student housing crisis, one way or the other

The size of the student population and the multi-year development of the student room supply has been the subject of periodic consultation between the municipality and Maastricht University for many years. Nevertheless, it isn't proving easy to meet the current agreement to increase the student housing supply by 485 units annually. This year, they have failed to meet that milestone again. In other words, I suspect the new batch of students moving to the city over the upcoming weeks will have difficulty finding (affordable) housing.

A quick search on the housing agency websites confirms this suspicion. At the moment of writing (19 July 2022), there are only 11 rooms available for less than 500 euros a month on Maastricht Housing, the official housing mediator of Maastricht University. Real estate companies specializing in student housing like The Student Hotel and XIOR are fully booked for the foreseeable future, except for one or two rooms that sporadically become available. Soon housing pages on Facebook, often used as the last resort, are likely to be filled with desperate posts of first-year students searching for shelter.

The private market is hampered by municipalities' conservative legislation

One of the reasons for the student housing shortage is that over the past years, the municipality has imposed strict rules on where student housing is allowed to be located, in addition to quotas that limit how many existing buildings can be transformed into student housing. According to these regulations, a maximum of 120 houses can be transformed into student houses per year. The reason for these restrictive and conservative policies is the NIMBYism stance of neighborhood representatives, claiming that while more student housing is needed, it should not be added to their neighborhood as it will only lead to nuisance problems.

This leads to a stagnated response in the private market, where the supply does not catch up quickly enough to meet the increasing demand. This is a pity as enough homeowners are willing to transform houses into student rooms, as evidenced by the long line of people lined up in front of the municipality building every year, hoping to get their permit request accepted. As a result of the stagnated supply, the existing landlords of student housing have a lot of bargaining power, leading to students taking rooms that are in poorly maintained conditions and expensive for the quality/space of what they get. Unsurprisingly, increasingly more students resort to living in villages/cities just over the border in neighboring countries (e.g., Vroenhoven and Aachen).

Increase student housing supply, or halt the increase in new students

The other main reason for the shortage in student housing is that Maastricht University has been expanding rapidly over the past years. The housing supply has been unable to keep up with the increased demand. While being a significant contributor to the problem, Maastricht University has not done enough in trying to solve it. Maurice Evers, the department head of Maastricht Housing, stated in a piece by the Observant that it is not the goal of a university to provide housing to its students. I agree with him that it is not the main purpose of any university to acquire and manage housing units for its students. However, due to the Problem-Based Learning approach at Maastricht University, being on campus remains very important, even after the pandemic. The UM states on their website that “Online education is the exception for when there is really no other option.” The fact is that increasingly more students are finding themselves in the category of facing no other option. How can you expect to successfully implement PBL, while increasingly more students find it impossible to live in Maastricht?

That being said, it is unfair to ask students to be physically present at the university four times per week while not being proactive in ensuring their basic needs, namely having affordable shelter. Maastricht University must step up to the plate and proactively help with the housing crisis or change its expansionary strategy.

Purpose Built Student Housing (PBSH) seems to be the most effective solution

Over the past decade, PBSH has been the sole source of a significant increase in student housing supply in Maastricht. For example, The Student Hotel has structurally added 398 quality units, while the XIOR buildings have added 257 units. In 2023, there will be another 506 units added at the Duboisdomein, which has been acquired by Round Hill Capital, a London-based institutional real estate investor. The next thing should be to develop 500+ units employing PBSH where the temporary prefab-container units have been built in Randwyck. It is time to step up, the reputation of the university is on the line.