Students engaged in rent struggle with Amsterdam housing companies
Social Housing companies refuse to listen to student group’s demands for rent forgiveness whilst quietly intimidating members.
Social housing companies De Key and DUWO have ignored student tenants and their concerns regarding income, rent and the current COVID-19 crisis, leaving many in a precarious position. We, a group of Amsterdam students consisting of both Dutch and Internationals at institutions including UvA and AUC have formed a group and organised rent actions including a rent strike. We are worried about our inabilities to pay their rent due to the ongoing pandemic and so we have taken the fight to the government and the housing companies. We have formulated demands and a petition which has been circulated around our fellow students, garnering support across campuses and education institutions.
We have have set out the following demands:
• Full rent suspension for the duration of the Covid-19 crisis without obligation to pay back in the future.
• No rent increase for the duration of 2020.
• A law banning evictions.
• Binding measures to forbid collection costs.
Our petition, (which can be found here: https://secure.avaaz.org/en/community_petitions/dutch_government_duwo_de_key_and_other_student_hou_rent_relief_for_student_tenants_in_the_netherlands/details/) contains reasonings and justifications for our demands, citing economic insecurity created by the current global pandemic. There has been precious little effort to alleviate this situation from the side of government or social housing companies like De Key and DUWO. Students are particularly vulnerable as our jobs tend to be informal or based on zero-hour or flex contracts. In addition, they are largely in the hospitality and service industry which are amongst those hit hardest by the crisis and the lockdown. Indeed, the government measures that are in place to protect workers often do not cover these types of employment and contracts and thus students are being left exposed. When confronted with this question, the Minister of Education responded by suggesting that students take out loans in order to compensate for Covid-19 related financial damages. Given the financial freeloading that is going on in the corporate world at the moment (€ 9 Billion alone to KLM) this is a preposterous suggestion. It also ignores the fact that many students, especially international ones, of which UvA alone has some 5000, do not have access to loans; not to mention the obvious negative consequence of further indebtedness.
We are also highly critical of the emergency law passed in April, as it is clearly insufficient in its mission to guarantee stable housing, as three month extensions can be rejected in case of rent arrears or planned demolitions. The protection it provides against eviction is extremely week as it comes in the form of a non-binding resolution that does not even cover 20 per cent of Dutch students. At a time where there is a public health crisis, the risk of homelessness faced by all people, not just students, in precarious living situations creates a rather worrying prospect which has driven students in Amsterdam to consider rent striking.
So basically, all that students can right now rely on are Minister Ollongren’s words encouraging landlords and housing companies to make concessions in favour of tenants, including rent reductions and forgiveness. Currently, this is only done on a voluntary basis and unsurprisingly, few arrangements have been made. Indeed, neither DUWO nor De Key have given any such concessions, but have rather gone ahead with annual rent increases as of July. It’s obvious that his goes against the wishes of tenants but also runs counter the will of the Senate. Ollengren has been described as “putting herself in political trouble” by refusing the will of the Senate to freeze rent. So not only do students and tenants have to deal with a loss of income, their rent has now increased in many cases, deteriorating an already precarious situation. Indeed, it has meant many students have had to return home, including some international students being forced to return to home countries a lot less safe regarding the virus than The Netherlands.
Instead of helping their tenants as they are supposed to as social housing companies, DUWO and De Key have gone ahead with the previously mentioned rent increases, refusing to give any public acknowledgement of the student activists or their demands. However, members of our group have been contacted personally by De Key on private emails and phone numbers aggressively demanding explanations for their actions. These are obvious attempts at intimidation, trying to threaten students into keeping quiet and paying up. Indeed, some students looking to extend contracts and stay in Amsterdam were told that joining the rent action would endanger their contract extension. One particularly insidious example of this kind of backdoor intimidation tactics is how they worked out the identity of an activist by way of a picture of a poster the group circulated online. In order to show support, some students held banners outside their windows of their accommodation; one such student received a phone call from De Key confronting him and hinting at the possibility of eviction. What makes matters worse is that this particular photo did not directly identify the student. Only by working out the number of windows and cross referencing their tenants’ information could De Key get to the student activist’s identity. Perhaps even more shockingly, DUWO threatened one member of the rent strike group with legal action and an unprecedented €184 collection cost should they continue in their protest and strike. This is utterly unacceptable behaviour by an organisation whose mission it is to take care of those in need of social housing. One student expressed their worries to De Key about having to return home to the UK, the country worst affected by Covid-19 in Europe currently, where they had no place to quarantine for the legally mandated 2 weeks. De Key’s response was to deny their request for somewhere to stay for a week or two until they secured a safe place to stay in the UK, forcing them to travel without such a place secured. This epitomises the disregard De Key has shown for their tenants, even forcing them to travel without a safe, secure destination to stay at. Amidst a global pandemic, especially returning to a relatively dangerous country, this represents a threat to health.
The rent strike activists are adamant in their defiance of De Key, DUWO, and housing companies and say they have wide support from local media, activists and unions. Those of you who may wish to support us in our fight against housing insecurity, we ask you to sign our petition and share it amongst friends and colleagues. Should you wish to ask us any questions or hopefully even get involved, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know.