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Maastricht should take back control over its housing market

At the end of December, the Limburger (a regional newspaper) read: Company in charge of student campus declared bankrupt; no effect on 506 predominantly foreign students according to parent-company. The reason behind all of this: water-leakage. This was already the third time in 6 months that Nido Living was unable to meet their commitments to the 500+ tenants. We wonder, is delay the beginning of defeat?

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Mart Den Heijer

First and foremost, Volt is in favor of a holistic, all-encompassing, approach to housing. Regardless of who it concerns, students, the elderly, etc., we believe everyone enjoys a right to affordable housing. By now, everyone seems to agree that the housing market is completely dysfunctional. Houses that were committed to be built take longer and longer, with some projects not even reaching a stage of completion. As such, we feel the urgency concerning Nido Living. The students, all 506 of them, seem to be tackled by a legal loophole just before they manage to cross the proverbial finish line. A question arises: will local politics/politicians (be able to) intervene?

As a city councilman you are there to perform checks and balances. Sometimes this means you only need to sign at the dotted line, other times you are required to ask additional questions, file amendments, etcetera. In the end, you go into the debate with an open mind, share your opinions and vote accordingly. The outcome will then determine the (re)new(ed) policy. 

In this particular case, we are in a bit of a gray zone. To fully understand why this case is different, we need to provide you with some additional background information on Nido Living. In July 2020, the municipal council took an all encompassing decision to allow Urban Development the permission to start building the student complex Muse. Great news according to then executive councilor, Niels Peters (CDA): “The redevelopment of the old postal office is a fantastic new start for the development of large scale student housing on the Health Campus. With this project we will be able to meet the demand of affordable housing for (international) students”. Following this press release, Urban Developers hires contractor Hurks and starts building.

You may ask yourself the question: why are companies even involved in this? Can the (local) government not take care of this themselves? The Dutch system does not foresee in handling these needs currently. The current system is (fully) dependent on the external market. As a municipality, you can only supply permits for construction plans, after which external people and/or organisations can actually start executing the construction plans. This all assumes of course that permits have been granted and development plans allow for this to happen. The external “market” so to say, is thus believed to be the most appropriate party to take care of this. As a result, the current “recipe” requires a plot of land, a developer, a contractor, inhabitants and an investment company. Combine all of these, wait for 5 to 10 years and housing will be developed, profits are made and new inhabitants of the area are happy.

The last couple of years, demand has exceeded supply. Considering these favorable market conditions you may wonder: what could possibly go wrong? It all started in February of 2022 when the investment company, Urban Developers, sold the houses. This marks the beginning of the end. One investment company buys the portfolio from another investment company. As a municipality, you lose the contacts you made with the previous company. In the end, they are the ones you contracted with, not the new buying entity.

Round Hill Capital becomes the proud new owner of this housing portfolio in Maastricht. An international investment company whose sole purpose it is to make as much profit as it possibly can to satisfy their shareholders. Should you even make an investment company responsible for affordable student housing? In our point of view, maximizing profits and affordable housing contradict one another. Then comes the fact that Round Hill Capital itself has quite a colorful history. They became active in the Dutch housing market in 2014. Since then they bought and (re-)sold quite some property investments. Whereas this makes a lot of sense from a shareholder perspective, it negatively impacts (future) inhabitants. In the end they could become victims of a situation in which they are mere pawns in a system that used to generate more wealth for a specific group of people.

Next to the two aforementioned companies, there is a third. We’ve already introduced Urban Developers which is no longer in the picture. Round Hill Capital took over, but its Dutch subsidiary filed for bankruptcy. Next-up: EMC (probably ECM B.V.). A company which asks students to sign a lease within a mere 24 hours. According to the records, the “true” owner of both the property and the land it was built / renovated on.

After the news in which students were told they could not move into their new apartments due to “water damage”, they received a letter which told them that they had the option to get temporary residence at a holiday park. ECM herein even mentions that this is a courtesy as they only need to do so if the final delivery of the project would be in 10 days or less. Evenso, over 300 students have dissolved their contracts due to the uncertainty, the additional costs, and an ever-tightening housing market. Perfectly capturing the flaws our current system is built on. 

January 4th, Volt submitted written questions to the executive council to on the one hand voice our concerns but also as a call to action as they are, in our point of view, morally obliged to assist. These questions call for a critical look at the system as it is now. On January 5th, our local councilman (Mart den Heijer) is quoted saying: “[The] local chapter of Volt is deeply worried about students who run the risk of becoming homeless as per February 1st”. Until now, the municipality has not responded to a request of the regional newspaper, the Limburger, to respond to some of the questions they had. January 9th, Mart once more called the executive council to action to share their views on the situation. Sadly, without any response. The questions asked you may wonder, were as follows:

  • Can you explain which action the executive council is taking to mitigate the situation
  • Can you shed some lights on the permits? Is it possible to re-sell the complex to a new corporation who may or may not want to house students?
  • Can the executive council ensure that there are no students left on the streets as per February 1st?

The critique offered by Volt is simple but evident. The situation has hopefully become a bit more clear and the urgency is hopefully felt by all parties. In the meantime, the executive council replied to the questions submitted on January 4th and 9th. For a full report (in Dutch) please click here. In short, the executive council does not feel responsible for student housing. Even if this means they will be left on the streets as per February 1st. 

For Volt, this is simply unacceptable. We will be continuing to put pressure on the executive council to avoid this from happening. Furthermore, since this is a systemic issue, we will be working together with the Socialist Party (SP) to call upon the executive council to investigate the possibilities for housing organized by the municipality (as is the case in certain other cities). If a city wants that people are able to house its inhabitants in an affordable and trustworthy manner, then it has no choice but to take matters into their own hands.

We hope that one day, our vision becomes reality. 

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