This service for students, set up originally by the student union W.S.O., had long been run by people whose university days are over. It was becoming increasingly difficult to find new staff and keep the service up to date, explains Nico Claassens, associate professor of Microbiology and a member of the board and supervisory director of HousingDesk for some years.
‘When the W.S.O. student union was disbanded in 2012, we decided to continue with the HousingDesk as a foundation,’ says Claassens. ‘We felt it was important to offer a platform for students and people who take in lodgers or have a few rooms to let. In recent years, our main task has been advising international students and answering questions about housing benefit, Dutch-language contracts and so on. We also gave warnings about scammers and published reliable adverts from landlords on our website. In addition, we helped the landlords draw up rental contracts.’
Before the HousingDesk online platform was set up, there was a housing desk (Kamerbalie) in Arion, says Claassens. ‘They had a card index box with all the rooms that were available.’ Later, when the university sold Arion, the housing desk moved to the Building with the Clock (Generaal Foulkesweg 37). ‘That is more difficult to find for today’s students. Then along came the coronavirus and the HousingDesk became less of an actual office and more of a digital helpdesk.’
But it was becoming more and more difficult to recruit staff, while students hadn’t been involved in the HousingDesk for a long time, so the board concluded continuing with the current setup was no longer viable, says Claassens. ‘We called the municipality, the public library, Thuis, Idealis and the university to ask whether they wanted to take over our tasks. Unfortunately, no one did. When we announced we would be stopping for good, some landladies emailed us in shock: What are we supposed to do now? The university and the municipality have told them to contact HospiHousing, a nationwide platform that matches students to people with rooms to let.’
Finally, Claassens points to the Good Landlordship Act. ‘It says the municipality is responsible for enforcement in the case of rental accommodation. So legally it’s the municipality that needs to take action. I hope in particular they do something about the scamming as I’m quite worried about that. But the municipality should also do more to tackle the problem of landlords demanding excessively high rents.’
The HousingDesk office has already been emptied.