SSH wants to persuade students living in the Tuindorp West complex to move
‘I've finally found a place, and then three days later I’m told to leave’
It’s a bleak Sunday evening. There are puddles on the street and brown leaves are falling from the trees. Despite the late hour, there is a crowd at the entrance of the red building on Van Lieflandlaan avenue.
A young student is dropped off by his father and rushes inside to catch the elevator. Another resident seems to be more patient and holds the door for someone else. Two girls are still looking for a place to park their bicycles outside, somewhere among the hundreds of other bicycles surrounding the building.
Next year, all those bicycles may be gone as the building will be the first in the Tuindorp West complex (TWC) to undergo renovations to become more sustainable. A lot needs to be done, including the façade, bathrooms, toilets and kitchens, which is why the residents can’t stay there throughout the renovation process. They will need to move out by July 31, 2024. However, at least 70 percent of the residents need to agree with SSH's plan for it to go on. They were asked to give their approval through a digital form between November 17 and January 31. It's not possible to vote "no" but they can abstain from voting. If the plan goes ahead, SSH says that the residents of the red building will take part in a priority scheme in which they will be at the top of the list when applying for a room in any of the other houses owned by SSH. They can also choose to live temporarily in another TWC building and then return once the renovation works are done.
Renovation is necessary
“This renovation is really necessary,” says a student who lives on the third floor of the red building, while cooking two eggs. She prefers not to be identified in this article. The wind rattles incessantly at one of the ramshackle tipping windows. “The insulation here is so bad that the wind blows straight through the living room. That might be a good thing, actually, because the ventilation doesn’t work at all and we would have even more problems with mold otherwise. Oh yeah, and it's a huge fire hazard too.”
Granted, the hazards can partially be attributed to students themselves as the apartments are often decorated with highly flammable stuff. The students argue that the décor is necessary because the flats are pretty dull. They were built in the 70s and the grey concrete was ruthlessly left exposed on the outside. Due to this distinctive architectural style, best known as brutalism, the buildings were declared municipal monuments in 2017. Cheeky residents have graffitied the stairwells in an ostensive act of protest against the renovation plans. They also hung a banner on the outside of the building and put up posters at the entrance hall to persuade residents not to vote, according to someone living on the sixth floor.
“We’re not sure if the graffiti was part of the protest but it appeared on the day we got the news about the renovation,” says another resident of the sixth floor. He is having a beer with his roommates in the living room, which also serves as a kitchen. “Strangely enough, everything was gone the day after. Even the graffiti disappeared. That evening, as a desperate measure, we also pasted some newspaper clippings on the wall.” His roommates laugh while he reminisces. “Maybe that was a bit dramatic because the renovation is really necessary.” A student living on the floor below confirms this, noting that her toilet gets clogged at least once a month.
But, according to the residents of the sixth floor, it doesn’t look like SSH is going to reach the 70-percent approval rate needed to renovate the place. “Someone from BoKS, the organisation that represents SSH tenants, came by to chat with us,” recollects another roommate. "He was met with a lot of negativity. The email also said that SSH will come by to talk if you don’t vote in favour, which sounds pretty grim.”
If you walk across the grey gallery, you can take a peek inside the apartments through the single glazing and the decorations. At this time in the evening, almost every living room is filled with groups of students who are often surrounded by beer crates. There are dirty dishes on the counter as to be expected. If you ring the doorbell and ask them what they think about the renovation plans, the answers are usually negative.
“We’ve been living here for three years,” says Ties, who lives on the fourth floor. “But I would prefer to stay here for at least another two years. Many people in this building have a close-knit group of roommates and they don’t want to lose that. Besides, no one wants to have to apply for a room again.”
A student from the third floor thinks that SSH has handled the situation terribly. “They have been investigating how to make the complex more sustainable in the most efficient way since 2018. So, they could have informed us much earlier. If they told us that, in two years, all residents need to be gone, people would have much more time to look for something new and those who move into the building to sublet a room would know where they are getting themselves into.”
A big surprise
Instead, the residents were completely blindsided by the plan. The news hit them hard. Aukje, for instance, had only been living in her TWC room for three days when she heard the news. Since she lives in the yellow building, she has more time to look for something new compared to those in the red building. The former will be demolished one or two years later. Still, the news made her feel insecure.
“I expected to live here for much longer,” she tells us while chilling on her spot on the weathered couch in the living room. “I’ve only just started my studies. That priority arrangement doesn’t give me much hope either because, as a 19-year-old, I’ve been registered with SSH for a relatively short time. If I have to compete with the rest of the residents, who have been registered for much longer, it will be hard for me to get a room anyway. I was just so glad to finally get a place.”
The fact that she has a greater chance of ending up in "more luxurious" SSH accommodations due to the priority scheme doesn't alleviate her disappointment. “I'm a first-year student. The people living in the buildings in the city centre are usually much older students or they're already working. Personally, I’d much rather live in a young, lively student house like this.”
Some seem to fall by the wayside
The student on the third floor, whom we first met while she was baking eggs, has already graduated, so she no longer has a campus contract. This means that the priority scheme does not apply to her. “Normally, I wouldn’t have to leave the apartment until the end of 2024, but now that date has been moved up a few months. In addition, SSH will not know whether the plan will be officially allowed to move ahead or not until mid-February. By then, I will only have a few months left to find an affordable home, which is pretty difficult right now, to say the least. In its letters, SSH only advises recent graduates to send them an e-mail. I actually hope that they can get me a municipality priority scheme at Woningnet, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
But she is not the only one who has been excluded from SSH's priority scheme. Lester is sitting at the kitchen table with two pans and a plate. It’s late and he’s eating on his own tonight. He has been subletting a room on the third floor since March. Considering many of his roommates will be moving out in the next few months, he was pretty sure he would get a permanent place in the building, but now he is not sure what to expect as SSH hasn't said anything about students who are subletting. “I’ve lived here for so long now that I really feel like a part of the house,” he says. “But, suddenly, SSH announces that it will not be admitting any new residents as of next Wednesday. So, when my lease expires in January, I will have to move out. Maybe they’ll come up with a solution for people like me, but I’ve been in limbo for a week.”
The decision not to take in any new residents also means that the people who leave will not be replaced, turning cosy homes into dead places, not to mention that departing students might not bother to leave the house tidy. It's going to be renovated anyway, right? What will happen to the couches, pans, and rubbish in the hallways? “In any case, there will be a lot of empty rooms,” says Lester. “That's a nice opportunity to throw awesome house parties but, other than that, there’s nothing fun about it.”
On Tuesday evening, a meeting was held to provide residents with more information about the renovation plans. Only people living in the building were allowed to participate. A total of 120 showed up, over half of whom dressed in red to protest against the way things are being handled by SSH and also to indicate that they are a close-knit community. Their main message was: "We need more time." SSH's spokespeople claimed to understand that message, but they maintained that the current plans are appropriate and that the student housing provider would like to move forward with them. Recent graduates and people subletting rooms left the meeting feeling as uncertain as they did when they came in. "I have roommates in both situations and they went back home feeling defeated and frustrated," says Xander, one of the students who attended the meeting.