Coronavirus makes Groningen’s housing crisis disappear

SSH residence in Winschoterdiep, where Constanza and Kati live.

There is still available accommodation in Groningen. The university warns students every year that the housing is scarce in the city, so they should start looking for a room as soon as possible. Nevertheless, since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, things have been different.

Right now the city is not experiencing any housing crisis. SSH is the main company responsible for student housing in Groningen and it usually rents out 1,900 rooms, which are normally all reserved by the end of June. Currently, 700 of them are not accessible to respect the measures of social distancing, while “about five percent of the remaining rooms are still available,” says Senior Housing Officer Monique Louwes, who also points out that “the fact that not all of our rooms have been rented out yet, is a negative consequence [of the pandemic] for our business.”

SSH is not the only one experiencing a reduction in profits. Landlady Breda Sikkens says that during the peak of the pandemic she suddenly found herself with three vacant rooms and that she offered a reduction of the rent to three of her tenants. “I hope prices will go back to normal,” she says.

However, not every entrepreneur in the housing market considers the diminution in the requests a bad thing: “In the last two years the situation was horrible: there were entire families going to every real estate agency every single day,” says Els de Vos. Els works for Rostvast, a real estate company, and according to her, the situation is much better now: “We still have desperate students coming to our office but they are way less than last year”.

Students experienced a less difficult housing hunt this year. Costanza Fusi currently lives in the SSH residence in Winschoterdiep. When I ask her about her experience, she tells me that “finding accommodation was really easy, even though I started looking for it very late”. While we are talking, Kati Vainionpää joins the conversation and confirms: “In June I couldn’t find anything, but in August, SSH was really the easiest option”.

It is unknown whether the situation will ever be back to how it used to be before the pandemic, and if so, when it will happen. What is certain is that new student housing is being built and that this period of uncertainty will last for some more time, consequently reducing the number house seekers in the city and ultimately, having a positive effect on the housing crisis.

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