It may not be your problem (yet), but it definitely is your business.
Being a student in The Netherlands, and especially in The Hague, you might have noticed that there has been quite an uproar here and there coming from the LSVB (Landelijke Studentenvakbond). If you haven’t it is high time to take a dive into them because they are fighting for student rights you might not even know you have.
The LSVB is a national student union that has been fighting for the rights of University and HBO students since they were first founded back in 1983 in Delft. The union is a federation that consists of 12 individual student unions from different universities from all across the country, including the HSVB (Haagse Studentenvakbond) from The Hague University of Applied Sciences. They are committed to helping students gain more affordable education, involving more students in decision-making processes and improving student counseling and guidance. One more issue they are fighting to resolve is one that is now more prominent than ever: The right to an affordable (student) accommodation.
A sample conducted in cooperation with 5000 students showed that almost 8 out of 10 students pay too much rent based off of the home valuation system. On average these students pay €106,69 euros too much every month, and this number keeps on rising. Every year thousands of new national and international students arrive to their university city looking for accommodation. We have long surpassed the point where there are enough accommodations available to house all students and especially big cities have been dealing with a housing shortage for years now. Since there are way more students than rooms available, students at some point will be forced to accept any place that is available to them because otherwise they will quite literally have nowhere to go.
The dependency of students on room availability has caused many landlords and homeowners to take advantage of the situation. You might have heard of the term rack/slum-renters or if you are Dutch the term Huisjesmelker (literal meaning: Homemilker) might ring a bell. They are homeowners and landlords that charge students and young professionals an unreasonably high to even an outrageous amount of rent for small rooms and other places. On top of that many refuse or ignore to help their residents solve domestic defects such as broken radiators, leakages and fire safety for example. Your first thought might be that once such an issue occurs, one can just file a complaint, but unfortunately it is not always that simple. The problem is that there is barely any rent control or authority that these landlords need to answer too. That is why, when you become difficult in a landlord’s eyes, he or she can decide not to extend your lease agreement causing you to lose your accommodation. To them this doesn’t even matter because there are literally a thousand others waiting in line to take your place, and there is always someone just a bit more desperate and willing to put up with such things.
This leaves many students crippled and helpless in this unfair situation and that is wrong, very wrong. That is why, on the 16th of November 2020, a group of students from the LSVB set up a protest in The Hague in front of the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations. First, they put an envelope in the mailbox for Kajsa Ollongren, the minister of The Interior and Kingdom Relations, to ask her to install a fine for these slumlords/huisjesmelkers. The objective is to push the slumlords into a more controlled position in which their actions of exploitation can be more easily punished. When students are charged a fair amount of rent, they will not be kicked into society with an enormous amount of debt anymore, but with a more stable financial position which will help them to make a better, and fairer start in their working life.
Afterwards, the protest continued. About 15 to 20 students were protesting together, of which 6 even wore a cow costume. This has a symbolic connection to the Dutch translation of a slumlord, which is homemilker. The cow costume worn by the students symbolizes the ‘milking’ of money out of students for the personal benefit of the slumlords. The first thing I noticed, when I arrived at the scene, was that it was a much more professional set up than I had anticipated. Surrounding the protest were camera crews and interviewers working to get the best possible view of it all and making sure that the protesters could tell their story. They held up a banner that said: “THE RENT IS TOO DAMN HIGH #niet mijn schuld” (translation: not my fault) and many more cardboards, posters, pamphlets, all of them dictating exactly what is wrong with the current rent situation that they are facing. Another interesting observation I made was that the target audience, students and young professionals, didn’t seem to pay much attention at all to them, while older people who are less likely to fall victim to this issue actually paused to listen to them. I don’t know whether that is because of a lack of knowledge, carelessness or maybe another reason, but what I do know is that the importance of this issue is definitely not reaching the minds of those that will suffer from it the most.
While observing the protest I was lucky enough to get to talk to a few of the protesters. One of them explained to me that the absence of rent control and the advantage that the slumlords take of it isn’t the only problem. The second problem is one that many students are not really paying attention to until it is right in front of them: The price gap between subsidized housing and housing in the private rental sector. After getting your degree it is time to start your life as a young working professional. In case you have rented your accommodation from a student housing organization you usually have to move out within six months of graduating. If you got a room through another way you may stay, but when being a young working professional, chances are high that you have to get up early 5 days a week and with student roommates who still uphold the usual partying lifestyle, living there becomes far from ideal. So, when you want to move from a student home to your own place as a young professional there is quite a change that you will fall into the gap I mentioned above.
Being in this gap means you now earn too much money to be allowed to rent a subsidized home, but not nearly enough to buy something in the private sector. This is why many young professionals are forced to move back home and live with their parents, or once again have to rent a place with roommates that is way too expensive and prohibits them from saving up money to buy a place in the private sector. In the worst case scenario, when going back home and renting a place with others isn’t an option, you become someone who is called: economically homeless. This means that you are working and therefore earning money, but aren’t able to provide a home for yourself because of the latter circumstances. This is a very serious problem that more and more people will have to face sooner or later and since it is better to prevent than cure, we have to start changing things right now so the next generation of young professionals can make a fairer start in their working life. That is why the LSVB is protesting and pleading for minister Ollongren to install fines and better rent control for slumlords and raise the maximum rental price in the subsidized sector, so that they become available to young professionals as well. This way, current students will be able to start their working life in a few years with a more stable financial status and young professionals can find an affordable place to live.
However, this is not something that they can do alone. They need your help to stand up against this exploitation and unfair treatment in order to push those in power to change this to take action. The most important thing you can do is educate yourself on the topic, know what (might) be waiting for you and plan how to avoid falling into the gap of economic homelessness. Another important thing you can do to support is go to https://actie.degoedezaak.org/categories and sign a petition against the housing crisis. To make it even easier, each city is provided with its own petition that you can choose to sign. For more information you can go to the website of the LSVB: https://lsvb.nl/ to find out more about what they do and what they stand for. They also have a student line available that you can call to and they will be happy to answer any question you have about rent, education and all other things that they concern themselves with. And in case you need just a little extra reason to take action just remember: Just because something is not directly a problem for you (yet), if a small bit of effort from your side can make a difference, it most certainly is your business.
Nandi van Vliet