Groningen: Statement by Akerkstraat squatters to the council

Dear Councillors,

As the people who live in Akerkstraat 16a we are pleased to be able to speak at this needed debate about the housing shortage among students, mostly internationals, in Groningen. It is clear to us that this is a matter of urgency. Every year thousands of international students are lured to the city to come and study here. What should have been a wonderful time in a beautiful city turns out to be a tragedy for many of them, just as this year. There are not enough houses, especially ones that are affordable, in the city to accommodate all those students. At this moment hundreds of students are in the emergency shelter they are expected to leave at the end of this month. Most of them have not yet found alternative housing.

Apart from the annoying situation of having to spend the night in an emergency shelter or on the couch with friends, the housing shortage has other detrimental consequences for foreign students. Unfortunately, this often remains under reported. Foreign students cannot register as residents of the municipality of Groningen as long as they do not have a permanent home address. This means that they cannot apply for a BSN number. As a consequence, they cannot take a part-time job or open a bank account to receive student finance.

This week many stories have appeared in the press about the owner of our new house. We would like to tell our side of the story. An owner who lets his building in the city center fall apart for more than twelve years is acting irresponsibly. For more than a decade, this owner has done nothing to renovate the building. Visitors of the Aa Theater, located opposite our house, were amazed how it is possible that such a building can rot for so long without the municipality doing anything about it. They supported the building being used and wished us good luck with our squatting action.

It seems that the owner has intentionally allowed the building to rot by not doing simple maintenance like fixing the roof to keep the inside dry. Fortunately, in consultation with and under inspection of the municipality, we have repaired the damage so that the situation in our house is safe now.
As you probably know, squatters in Groningen cause few problems. If an owner of a squat has concrete plans for a building, it is usually abandoned by the squatters as previously agreed. If the squatters have doubts about the sincerity of the owner’s plans, the case is sometimes first submitted to the independent civil judge who weighs up the interests. It is normal in Groningen, that if a judge decides that the squatters have to leave a house, they do so.

Before entering into a debate in the municipal council, we believe that it would be wise to look at the case from a number of perspectives. We call on you not to allow the debate this afternoon to be guided by the issue of ‘squatting’, but rather by the will to finally find a solution to the problem of the housing of foreign students that recurs every year.

Some squats in the Netherlands:
Groups (social center, collective, squat) in the Netherlands:
Events in the Netherlands: