Living with unemployed people, because "anything’s better than camping”
Leiden alderman Yvonne van Delft (GroenLinks) wants to allow people on social assistance to let rooms to students. Her plan has led to questions in the Municipal Council.
Sebastiaan van Loosbroek
Thursday 16 May 2019
Chinese exchange student Yichao Li at campsite Stochemhoeve, 2018. Photo by Taco van der Eb

The alderman for Work and Income can’t forget the image, she says: that one picture on the cover of Mare last September, showing an international student crouching in front of his tent because he had no choice but to live on Stochemhoeve Campsite.

Yvonne van Delft is aware there’s no short-term solution for the lack of accommodation, but she also knows that many of the 3,100 people in Leiden on social assistance are lonely.

“We becoming more individual and egocentric. That’s when I thought: would it be possible to offer those people the chance to let a room to a student, if they have an extra room?”

As far as anyone knows, that is scarcely the case at present, according to the explanatory notes to the pilot “Kamernood onder studenten en bijstand” [Shortage of accommodation and social assistance]. There’s an obvious reason: according to the Dutch Participation Act, revenue from lets are deducted from the social assistance.

Van Delft suggests that if a person on social assistance takes in a student, it qualifies as volunteer work. In that case, the room may not cost more than 237 Euros (170 Euros and 67 Euros for expenses) and the “landlord” can keep that sum. “Those people have very little money”, Van Delft says. “This could be an incentive, if their benefits aren’t cut.”

'Double standards'
But not all parties on the Municipal Council think that the pilot, which is to run from 1 July 2019 to 1 July 2020, will work. VVD Leiden, for one, believes that the plan “is full of holes” and that the Municipal Executive “is using double standards” and pursuing “an unfair policy”.
“This same Municipal Executive introduced measures to stop multiple occupation conversions, so houses can’t be turned into student accommodation for a while, but people on social assistance are allowed to make money from their homes that they rent from housing corporations?” the party wrote. Moreover, the plan would remove any incentive to get people on benefits to work.

“It’s a shame”, Van Delft replied to the comments. “The main idea is to reduce the shortage of student accommodation. Besides, it’s a temporary measure, we’re busy building 2,700 student apartments too. “Then get to work!” came the reaction. “Yes, I want that too, but this plan is not part of it. Both solutions can work perfectly well alongside each other.”

The national VVD party is sceptical too, and has asked fourteen questions in Parliament. The lets are supposedly “illegal sublets”. In addition, the party has accused the alderman of “improper administration” because, according to the Leidsch Dagblad, she allegedly said: “Let’s just do it and the politicians in The Hague can respond as they see fit.”

The alderman needs to discuss the pilot with the Municipal Council before it can be launched. “If everyone’s against it, I’ll have to step back, but that’s not what I expect. And if the ministers say that this type of letting is prohibited, well, it was a worth a try; we’ll keep on looking for other options.”

In the meantime, everyone on social assistance has been notified of the plan by letter. “I have no idea how many people will apply”, says Van Delft. “But say one per cent of them apply, that’s thirty places. That would be fantastic.”

And the students? “Living in someone’s home in the Stevenshof district won’t be the same as living in a Minerva house on Rapenburg”, the alderman admits. “But I think they’d prefer it to living in a tent.”