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Student flat on de TU-campus. (Photo: Connie van Uffelen)
Student flat on de TU-campus. (Photo: Connie van Uffelen)

Due to the corona crisis, the vacancy rate for student housing has shot up. If in-person education doesn’t start up again and internationals don’t return, rooms stay empty.

Liever Nederlands

Over the past few weeks, many international students have left their rooms and gone back home. This has led to a substantial increase in the number of rooms on offer, both in the private market and from housing corporations.

Between March and April, online housing platform Kamernet saw its listings increase by no less than 53 percent. In Utrecht, student housing provider SSH offered some 400 temporary rooms up for rent at discount rates.

Playing it safe
In recent years, Dutch higher education has seen a growing influx of international students, with internationalisation organisation Nuffic reporting almost 86,000 enrolments over the course of the current academic year. But this trend will most likely be broken next September.

The first signs are already here: according to British research agency QS, more than half of all prospective international students are playing it safe and postponing their plans to come to Europe by at least one year due to the coronavirus. What does this mean for the student housing market?

Waiting lists
For popular student cities like Amsterdam, The Hague and Leiden, not much will change. The housing shortage in these cities is so high that housing corporations don’t expect a jump in vacancy rates any time soon.

“The average waiting time for our student housing units in the major Dutch Randstad cities is 50 months,” says Gijsbert Mul of student housing corporation DUWO. “So if there is a small drop in influx this year, that really shouldn’t be a major problem. We’ll still be able to find tenants for all of our units.”

No reason to move out
But in other regions, empty rooms are “not unthinkable”, Mul predicts. This could happen in cities like Wageningen and Groningen, for example; university cities outside the Randstad with large international student populations.

Much will also depend on the extent to which universities will resume regular, in-person education again after the summer. As things currently stand, universities will continue to exclusively offer parts of their curricula online next fall. If this doesn’t change, even Dutch students might think twice before leaving the nest. If they only need to be physically present once a week, why bother renting a room?

Effects are temporary
Paul Tholenaars, director of Kences, the umbrella organisation for student housing corporations in the Netherlands, is a little more reticent. He doesn’t think large-scale vacancies are likely. “In large cities, that’s definitely not going to happen any time soon. If it does happen, cities like Wageningen, Enschede and Maastricht would see the effects first.”

Tholenaars does confirm that the balance between supply and demand in the student housing market is shifting. “But that should be a temporary situation. We expect a fresh batch of students to be looking for housing come September. But there are no certainties at the moment. No one knows what’s going to happen over the next few months.”

Still, he doesn’t expect to see empty rooms. “If the students don’t come, there will be plenty of other people looking for a place to live.”

HOP, Evelien Flink

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