Homes for All #5: Groningen with René Asschert

Homes for All is a video series commissioned by Stadsleven in which correspondents from all over the world report on the state of the housing market in their city. In episode 5 about the northern Dutch city Groningen, René Asschert, program leader Housing of the city Groningen, shows us one of the city’s big challenges: to provide enough housing for students.

Blog written by Sanne van der Beek

The youngest city of the Netherlands

Nothing tops Groningen (in Dutch: ‘Er gaat niets boven Groningen’) is the well-known slogan of the northern city of the Netherlands. This goes especially for the many students who come to Groningen every year to study at the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen (RUG) or the Hanze Hogeschool. Groningen has 50.000 students, which means that one in every four inhabitants is a student. As a consequence, Groningen is the youngest city in the Netherlands. 

It’s not strange that Groningen attracts so many students, not only from the Netherlands but also from abroad. It is a great city to live in, with its historical city center and lots of little shops, galleries, coffee bars and museums. But after their studies, many students leave the city for a future in the big four: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht or The Hague.

No sun in sight

The success of Groningen as student city is a cause of concern for the other inhabitants, wrote Dutch journalist Floor Milikowsky in an essay last year. Students are a very lucrative target for many landlords – to pay 300 euro for a small room is quite common – and a lot of local real estate agents focus on them. Buy a house, place some extra walls, done deal. This has in the past lead to building apartment towers inside of courtyard gardens, so the surrounding neighbors couldn’t even see the sun anymore. Therefore the current development plan for the municipality includes restrictions on building in courtyard gardens and on adding extra floors to houses. There is also a ban on splitting houses into rooms and mini-apartments.

The city council furthermore has picked up the task of building alternative student complexes at other locations in the city, as René Asscher shows in his Homes for All video. Encouraged by the municipality, corporations and other market parties have already provided three thousand student homes in recent years. The next few years four thousand are to follow.

Excluding middle incomes because of lack of housing

The large group of students also causes another problem: lack of diversity in the inner city. In some streets half of the houses are inhabited by students. The Woningmonitor 2017-2020 therefore pays special attention to finding ways that students and other inhabitants can live peacefully together.

Not that there is no interest from other groups to live in Groningen. In fact, a lot of people from the surrounding region want to live in the city. The surrounding region has a bad reputation because of the earthquake risks, causing housing prices to drop. But there are no houses to accommodate them.

During the financial crisis, not much was built. Also, according to the research of Milikowski, the city council does not enough have enough money to build new housing quickly and on a large enough scale. Investors and project developers are still wary of investing outside the Randstad and housing corporations also have a lot less money than they used to. This leads to a shortage of housing, especially in the sector without rent control. As a result, middle income households are now at risk of being excluded. The city of Groningen has plans to build in the upcoming years 20.000 extra houses to keep an inclusive and diverse city and to respond to the expected 24.000 extra inhabitants expected by 2030. As most people want to live in downtown Groningen, one of the strategies is to turn former business parks such as the Suikerunie into residential areas. 

Want to know more?

  • You can find other episodes of our Homes for All video series here.
  • In the live talkshow on September 28th, ‘Wij Willen Wonen’, we’ll discuss the overheated housing market in big cities, in the Netherlands and elsewhere, and will look at alternative solutions.