A degree of hardship

The challenging quest for a room in Leiden

Taco van der Eb

Have you found housing yet? If you found it difficult, you’re not alone. Leiden is full, say international
students. “A desperate appeal on Facebook produced something in Noordwijkerhout.”

(Originele Nederlandstalige artikel hier)

“I’ve been here for about six weeks now”, says Luca Brunke (22), sitting in front of his tent on the Stochemhoeve campsite on the edge of Leiden. “I can’t do without my torch and I wash my clothes by hand twice a week.”

Brunke is from Germany and arrived in Leiden for a Master’s programme following his Bachelor’s degree in Archaeology at Tubingen. “I tried to find accommodation here via all sorts of websites, Kamernet and estate agents. To no avail, because I couldn’t take a quick trip there and back to view or ‘audition’ for a room.”
He still hadn’t found anything by the end of July. “But I had to be in Leiden to follow an English course at the Language Centre.”

He decided to go camping. “I travelled by bus from Germany to Amsterdam. I had brought my bike so I cycled from Amsterdam to Leiden. My laptop and my clothes were in my backpack and my tent, sleeping bag and mat on the carrier. It rained almost every day for the first two weeks. Though it was dry inside, it’s difficult to do anything on wet days and I have no idea how to dry my clothes.”

He cooks his evening meals in a pan on a gas burner. “I need to go shopping everyday because I can’t keep anything, although I sometimes get a pizza in town or eat at a friend’s place. Actually, they’re coming here tonight for a barbecue. When my campsite-neighbour left, he left his barbecue for me.

He knows he’s not alone. “At a certain point, there were four of us students here among the families with small kids. One managed to find a room and the other two are staying in rooms at the campsite. Friends from Tubingen who also came to Leiden found it difficult too.”

Many Dutch students experience the same problem. According to the Dutch National Union of Students, Leiden still had a shortage of 3,650 rooms in 2013. According to DUWO, the largest student housing association in Leiden, the shortage is not as drastic this year, although there are 1,400 new tenants. Last summer, when the first 650 rooms in the new Leidse Schans tower were completed, DUWO estimated that the shortage was between 1,500 and 2,000. “I expect the shortage is less now, but there is still a shortage”, agrees Hans Pluim, DUWO’s branch manager for The Hague/Leiden. New figures will be presented next month. The shortage should be less than 500 in 2020, according to a deal with the council and this summer, another 216 rooms became available when the Langebrug complex was finished.

It’s hard enough for unlucky Dutch students to be forced to commute from small villages where the local bus runs six times a day, but things a bit more complicated if you’re from abroad. Accordingly, the university has a Housing Office for international students. The students pay a fee of EUR 350, which is refunded if the Office can’t find accommodation for them. Most students seem to find help from those quarters. More than six thousand first-years and Master’s students were welcomed by the University this week and about 1,200 of them are from abroad.

The number of applications submitted to the Housing Office is, in fact, slightly higher, claims Judith Jongenelen – it’s 1,293. But, as she explains, some people don’t actually come to Leiden in the end. “Students who haven’t been in touch with us before try now, in the first week. There were about seven yesterday and I have appointments with another fifteen or so this afternoon.” So far, 930 international students have found a place to call home, compared to last autumn, when 818 of the 982 applicants found housing.

Brunke, too, admits that he missed the deadline for his application. “I was doing fieldwork in Oman. If I had known it was going to be so much trouble, I would have tried to apply from there, even though it costs a lot.”
“I completely misjudged how difficult it is to find a place in Leiden,” says Daniel Arenas Lagos (29), a post-doctoral researcher from Spain. Leiden is full, he observes. “When I was doing my doctoral research, I visited Norway and Brazil, where the universities arrange accommodation for researchers.”

In Leiden, Stichting Boerhaave has a limited housing stock for PhD students and post-docs, but the university only gave Arenas Lagos some tips. “They said ‘keep an eye open on Facebook, Kamernet and estate agents’ websites’.” Last week, four days before he was to arrive in Leiden and start his research, he made an appeal via the Facebook group Zoekt kamer in Leiden.

“I was desperate, but I found a room with a family in Noordwijkerhout. Lovely people, with two kids, and they even cook for me. But I can only stay a month, so I’m still looking.”

At last, Brunke can finally put away his tent, after finding a room in Leiden’s district De Kooi through an estate agent. “I haven’t seen it yet. I’ve only seen pictures and I know I have two flatmates. It’s certainly more expensive than the campsite, which was ten Euros a night plus 55 cents for tourist tax. But I’m really looking forward to using electricity again. And not being so cold in the morning.” On the other hand: “Living outdoors feels like an adventure.”
By Marleen van Wesel

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A degree of hardship

Have you found housing yet? If you found it difficult, you’re not alone. Leiden is …