Extra Semester Students on the Verge of Homelessness: “Their Attitude Is Like, ‘Okay, This Is Your Problem Now'”

By Adesholla Bishop

Collage by Amal

— In the midst of the Netherlands’ housing crisis, the residential aspect of AUC has proven to be a luxury: rather than couchsurfing with friends or living in mobile homes, AUC students are guaranteed comfortable housing in one of the nearly 900 rooms in the student residences – but only if they complete their degree within the expected three years. 

The AUC website states that “all AUC students are guaranteed accommodation for the three years of their studies,” a privilege that allows students to “be able to relax and concentrate on enjoying their student life from the moment of arrival [at AUC].” For those students who require a seventh semester or fourth year to complete their education – a group that has recently increased in size, likely due to the added stress of COVID-19 – this relaxation and concentration dissolves as they suddenly face the Amsterdam housing market.

“At some point, you’re so desperate to find housing that you spend four hours a day minimum looking for housing, and every free minute, you’re just looking for an apartment,” says a seventh-semester Science student who requested to remain anonymous, describing the stress she experienced towards the end of her sixth semester at AUC.

The uncertain housing situation for seventh-semester and fourth-year students has not always been a characteristic of prolonged education at the university. “AUC started off with a system of guaranteed housing for the duration of the studies, no matter how long it took to graduate,” says Marcus Smit, the leader of AUC’s Services and Communications team. Smit explains that the system changed as it sometimes “led to the horrible scenario that new first-year students had to be placed in hostels due to a sudden room shortage,” thereby breaking the promise of guaranteed housing that allows AUC to stand out against many other universities in the Netherlands. 

Smit states that currently, “there is no process to request a guaranteed extension.” Students taking a seventh semester or fourth year this academic year were informed in their sixth semester that they would be required to move out of the dorms in line with their housing contract. Only if there remained available rooms after new first-years moved in would these students have the opportunity to return to the AUC dorms. “This is a last resort only!” the procedure stated, before inviting students to provide their contact information in order to be placed on a waiting list. 

“I entered my email address, clicked Submit, and didn’t hear back for months,” the aforementioned student says. “I wasn’t focused on AUC as being an option for housing,” she adds, continuing, “I basically put that into a drawer of, ‘Oh, yeah, this is technically still running, but it’s not going to save me.’”

It was only on 14 July – one day before her housing contract ended – that the student was offered a new room in the dorms, by which time she had already moved out, put her belongings in storage, and begun couchsurfing with friends as she searched for apartments. Nonetheless, she accepted the offer and moved into a new room in the dorms about two weeks after first moving out. 

“On paper it [the new housing contract] started on the fifteenth, but due to having to sign contracts and pay rent first, I couldn’t move in until about a week later,” she explains. Due to administrative processes, she says that “even if I didn’t move out on the eighth [of July] and had waited until the fifteenth, I would have still not had a home.”

The student was not the only one who faced the prospect of homelessness whilst navigating the housing market in Amsterdam. Nia Ubenova, a seventh-semester Social Science student, explains that she had originally planned to extend her stay in the dorms, but ultimately decided to search for housing externally. 

“You kind of feel like you’re an institutional drag because you didn’t fulfil your academic milestones,” Ubenova says of her initial contact with AUC to remain in the dorms. “Their attitude is like, ‘Okay, this is your problem now, because if you were smarter, or if you were less problematic, you would have graduated on time.’”

Ubenova is open about the mental health difficulties that led to her taking an extra semester, and explains that the search for housing was an added stress during her sixth semester. “I spent 99 percent of the time stressing about my moving out process, and one percent of the time actually working on it,” she says. She adds, “I was thinking about it constantly for two or three months before it happened, […] and knowing that some people who looked for six or seven months didn’t find anything meant that I wasn’t particularly optimistic.”

Ubenova eventually found housing through a Facebook page, and now lives with six other people in what she describes as “a big mansion” in Zwanenburg, a small town between Amsterdam and Haarlem. Though living outside of the dorms has already caused some issues – registering with the municipality coupled with the recent train strikes meant that she was only able to begin attending classes in the second week of the new academic year – she is largely satisfied with her decision to move out of the student residences. “I always hated how AUC is babysitting you and interfering with your privacy while you’re living in the dorms,” she says, continuing, “I finally feel like a normal person, like an adult.”

Ubenova advises students who extend their studies at AUC in the future to “go someplace else,” stating that “you’ve been here [in the dorms] for three years; I don’t think you can get anything more out of this place.”

Smit says that in his experience, “there’s typically a small group of students who are happy that they can finally live off-campus, and there is a majority who is hopeful that they can find housing [outside of the dorms] on their own.” In addition to these groups, he says that “there is also a small group that is very worried [about facing the housing market] or simply prefers to remain in the dorms.” 

While Ubenova firmly falls into the first category, the Science student falls into the last. While she explains that she would have appreciated receiving updates from AUC throughout the process, she remains “very grateful that I do have a room now, because I don’t know if I would have found a room even if I started looking way earlier.” 

Of those who formally requested to remain in the dorms, Smit says that “this year, summer 2022, we were able to offer all of the ten students who had registered on the waiting list a room in July/August already, since a large group of potential first-years suddenly dropped out due to failed exams.” 

Smit adds that in addition to the students on the original waiting list, “I think one or two students contacted us recently, and all of them were also offered a room before the UvA/VU/HvA students moved in.” (On 30 August, AUC informed students in an email that “we will be offering all empty spaces in single and two-person shared apartments […] to students who are currently homeless and on waiting lists at the University of Amsterdam, VU Amsterdam, and Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences.)

AUC does not formally monitor the housing status of seventh-semester or fourth-year students who live outside of the dorms. Thinking of another seventh-semester student who she claims has still been unable to find housing, Ubenova says “I just really hope that some students didn’t end up living in a bad environment with bad people because, personally, that would have ruined me.”

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