[Column] Housing, housing everywhere, nor any place to stay

To help avoid housing problems, TU Delft should regulate the influx of international students better and negotiate more firmly with rental agencies, Vishal Onkhar suggests.

Vishal Onkhar: “Rembrandt’s forays into Indian drawing techniques might have guided his hand in The Jewish Bride, a copy of which hangs in the hallways of 3mE.” (Photo: Sam Rentmeester)

You may discern that the title of this column is reminiscent of a verse from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s opus, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. In this oeuvre, the poet depicts a scene with a stalled ship on the high seas, encircled by water with which the parched sailors cannot slake their thirst, for it is briny. I broach the subject of this poem with a singular motive – to draw parallels with the dearth of affordable accommodation for internationals in Delft, a sordid affair that TU Delft is steeped in.

For indubitably, while the Netherlands is no stranger to housing crises having suffered under their yoke in recent years, it seems that people’s bottled-up discontent has finally boiled over. Exorbitant rent, abject homelessness, and squalid living conditions have sparked protests in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Groningen, and threaten to sweep across Delft. If truth be told, I am flummoxed that there isn’t already an outcry here, what with hapless students unable to register an address at the municipality and compelled to couch-surf or subsist on Airbnbs, hotels, and sublets.

This housing quandary appears to stem chiefly from the inundation of Dutch universities with fresh arrivals of foreign students. After all, their volume soars by 10% (in Dutch) each year like clockwork. Thus, one remedy seems absurdly straightforward – the IND and TU Delft could relinquish the lucrative cash cow that is the non-EU tuition fee by restricting the tally of university admits and student visas granted. Instead, rather bewilderingly, the powers that be have opted to cease ‘actively recruiting’ internationals and to inflate their already bloated tuition fee, ostensibly an endeavor to deter foreign applicants. Do the authorities not fathom, I wonder, that the reputation of TU Delft worldwide is such that, publicity campaign or no, there will inevitably be a surplus of aspirants willing to pay through the nose for admission?

Internationals are acutely disadvantaged

Moreover, merely damming the flow of incoming students will not suffice; this is but an antidote to part of the affliction, for the existing vulnerable groups are also in dire need of shelter. Internationals are acutely disadvantaged as they often hail from far-flung corners of the world and so cannot fall back on family, do not enjoy the luxury of an extensive web of friends who can provide referrals, scarcely speak the local tongue, are unacquainted with the subtleties of the Dutch housing market and so become unsuspecting victims of scammers, unscrupulous landlords, and exploitative agencies, and are generally turned away from prospective homes on discriminatory, or at best, questionable grounds such as ‘Dutch only’, ‘No internationals’, and ‘No students’. The latter point is especially diabolical, as it suggests that there are available rooms, just not if you’re a foreign student. A plight not unlike that of  the thirsty sailors on that boat!

Understandably, those bearing the brunt of the housing crisis harbour some resentment towards TU Delft for encouraging them to relocate to and study in the Netherlands, despite being aware that they might try in vain to secure a roof over their heads. To rub salt in the wound, delayed offers of admission by the university cost many precious time in house-hunting that might have been the difference between curling up in bed beneath a warm quilt and shivering in a tent. Thus, it is only fair that if TU Delft had a hand in getting these people into this mess, it should have a hand in getting them out of it. Regulating the influx of international students better and negotiating more firmly with lessors and rental agencies about reasonably priced dwellings for expats is as good a place to start as any. As for me, I am reminded to be grateful for my fortuitous circumstances in this matter, yet I wring my hands at the thought of the future.

Vishal Onkhar is from Chennai, India and pursuing his PhD in Vehicle Engineering at TU Delft. He is an avid player of chess and video games, but he also harbours a special interest for reading and writing fantasy fiction. He doesn’t drink coffee but good music and film have the same effect on him.

Columnist Vishal Onkhar

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