Housing Crisis: Homeless Students Find Refuge at Carolina MacGillavrylaan

By Franciszek Dziduch and Levin Stamm

Collage by Anna Sazonov

— The faces of the assembled were painted with anger, hopelessness and weariness. Last Saturday, 15,000 people gathered in Westerpark to protest against what they call an unfolding housing crisis in the Netherlands.

Among them, a few dozen AUC students. After over a year of mostly online classes, students were finally allowed to resume in-person education. For them, a reason to rejoice: they could come back or move into the comfortable accommodations provided by the university and at comparatively low rates for Amsterdam standards. However, for many students from other Dutch universities, the decision to reopen educational facilities sparks great problems. Even though classes have already started, many remain homeless to this day.

Olga Turno, a second-year Anthropology major at UvA, is one of the many students who temporarily finds shelter at Carolina MacGillavrylaan at the kindness of a friend. She has been looking for accommodation for over a year. Making use of online classes, she decided to spend her first year back home in Warsaw. However, with the resumption of in-person teaching, she was forced to move to Amsterdam, despite not having a place to live.

“I spent two weeks sleeping on a blanket and cleaning cloth”

– Olga Turno, Anthropology student at uva

Desperate to find a house, her family decided to pay the university 300 euros to help them search for a place. “A waste of money. They never got back to me”, Turno tells The Herring. Only after reaching out, the university replied that the housing process was finished; the money is yet to be refunded.

Turno at the Westerpark Housing Protest. Photo by Levin Stamm

“Coming to Amsterdam was a tiring and frustrating experience”, she continues, “I spent two weeks at my friend’s place, sleeping on a blanket and cleaning cloth.” Not having her own place and not knowing what to pack, she came to the city in which she is supposed to live for the next two years, “as if I was coming for a two-week holiday.” Despite responding to up to ten offers a day, most landlords did not even get back to her. 

Once invited to the viewings, Turno thought it was a big step forward. “I was wrong. The viewings were attended by several dozen people at a time, so they must have been attended by hundreds daily. After the viewings, I did not know what to do, as nobody contacted me, even if I wrote to the agencies who scheduled them.” Finally, she managed to find a flat through a person who was directly acquainted with the landlord. She believes that if not for such contacts, she would still be homeless.

Turno emphasizes the constant stress. Unable to register and receive a BSN number, she cannot search for a job, create a bank account or get a Dutch SIM card. “The most irritating thing is that it wasn’t what you would normally call ‘bad luck’. There are so many people who right now cannot enjoy studying. They need to constantly worry about their situation and instead of attending a lecture, attend another viewing. At one point I was sure that I would just not manage and go back to Warsaw.”

“My dream room turned out to be a scam.”

– Bori balázs, psychology student at leiden university

The general shortage and high rental prices of large-scale estate agencies force students to resort to informal alternatives – often within shady, unregulated groups on social media and often with unpleasant consequences. Bori Balázs had to experience this firsthand. The first-year Psychology student from Leiden University has been homeless since her arrival from Hungary at the end of August. She explains that her “dream room in the center of Leiden turned out to be a scam.”

Balázs at the Westerpark Housing Protest. Photo by Levin Stamm

Balázs had found the offer well before the start of the academic year in a Facebook group for housing – at a massively lower rate than what had been offered to her by the university. In contrast to many others, she was lucky enough to unmask the scammers early enough, finding photos of her house in another post that was advertising housing in Amsterdam. The 1000 euro payment she had believed to be a deposit was refunded by her bank at the last second. Once confronted, the landlord suddenly disappeared completely. “They even sent me a picture of a random person’s passport as identity proof.”

Later, Balázs got in touch with the woman whose identity has been misused to bamboozle students in desperate need for housing. The woman suspects a network operating from Nigeria to have stolen her identity. Using an intricate system of faked identities and bank details, “the police can’t do anything but take notes to keep on file”, the woman describes the hopelessness with which authorities attempt to put a stop to the fraudster’s game.

“Having stable housing was one of the reasons why I decided to come to AUC.”

– aaron wells, exchange student from university college maastricht

In the meantime, the market for university and other types of housing has fully drained out. Balázs is currently left with no other option than to count on her friends’ support and to commute every day between Leiden and Amsterdam. János Kékessy, a first-year science major at AUC, is currently hosting her at Carolina MacGillavrylaan. He says, “AUC providing our housing puts us in a very privileged position. Helping less fortunate students is the least we can do.”

Aaron Wells knows the value of AUC providing housing only too well. The third-year humanities student from University College Maastricht is currently on an exchange semester at AUC. “Having stable housing was one of the reasons why I decided to come here”, he says. In Maastricht, Wells had spent the last academic year couch hopping while desperately looking for his own place to stay.

Wells at the Westerpark Housing Protest. Photo by Levin Stamm

The organizers of the Westerpark protest speak of the worst housing crisis in the Netherlands since World War II with an estimated shortage of 300,000 apartments. Refugees, immigrants and international students especially have a great disadvantage over Duth citizens, often being waitlisted for an apartment for several years. The situation is yet to worsen: by 2024, the number of international students unable to find housing in the Netherlands is expected to rise to approximately 50,000.

Saturday’s protest in Westerpark was organized by a politically unaffiliated activist group called “Het Woonprotest” and supported by over 200 organizations. The group demands that the government guarantees “adequate and affordable housing”, that it abolishes “racist and class-oriented policies” and that it monitors and controls “the increasing rent and house prices”, to just name a few.

The next protest, called Woonopstand (residential revolt) will happen on October 17 in Rotterdam.

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