Nearly half of the new Erasmus students at the University of Applied Sciences (FH) in Kiel didn‘t know where they were going to live in Kiel a few weeks until their studies started. As the COVID-19 pandemic slowed down, more Kiel incomings resulted in a widening gap between the supply and demand of rooms for rent.

“Never been like this”

With just 3 weeks left to the orientation programme nearly half of the new exchange students for this semester didn‘t have a permanent place to stay, according to Katharina Schüssler, the International student advisor at FH Kiel.

In November, she warned the Erasmus incomings via e-mail about the strong imbalance between the demand and supply of rentable apartments in Kiel and encouraged to start looking for accommodation immediately. However, it doesn‘t seem to have helped.

“It has never been like this,” says Katharina Schüssler describing this semester‘s situation with many not finding a place at their wanted dormitories. According to her, previous exchange students who came during and before the pandemic didn‘t experience such issues.

“I believe it’s due to so many students coming here at once, because during the last semesters they were all studying from home and many just stayed with their families. And now, since we switched back to on-campus teaching, many students all at once came to Kiel looking for accommodation,” says the International student advisor.

Many students only get an answer right before the semester starts.

Katharina Schüssler

According to her, by the middle of February, many knew where they were going to stay for March only, but not after. Until the last days before Erasmus started, a lot of students were waiting for Studentenwerk, whose dorms are among the most wanted, to send an offer by e-mail.

“In Studentenwerk they have the deadline of applications quite close to the semester start, and then they have to process all the applications. So many students only get an answer right before the semester starts,” says Katharina Schüssler. “This is obviously a problem and causes a lot of stress, because you still don’t know where you’re going to live right before you move to another country.”

Messages of incomings having no success in finding an apartment flooded her e-mail in winter. So she was forced to do a lot of the students‘ work herself. “I had to call all the dorms, I had to try and find private accommodation,” says Katharina Schüssler.

Anxieties of the students

I was to leave for Kiel in a month and a half and I still had nowhere to stay.

Eva Da Silva

One of many Erasmus exchange students who were facing issues with finding an apartment was Eva Da Silva from France, studying at FH Kiel for the summer semester of 2022. “I started to apply at least three months in advance to private shared flats, but there were no results. Next to that, I had applied to the Studentenwerk in case I did not find anything. I was to leave for Kiel in a month and a half and I still had nowhere to stay,” says Eva.

Left without any news, she wrote to the dormitories to tell them about her worries she won’t get a place to stay. She had to book an Airbnb apartment for the first two weeks in Kiel.

“It was very expensive, but I had no other choice,” says Eva. “My friend got a positive answer [from Studentenwerk] before me, and I started to be really stressed.”

Finally, exactly two weeks before her departure, she received the e-mail. “I was offered a room in a shared flat with three other people, for the price of 230 euros a month,” says Eva. Even though it is a 1 hour trip from FH Kiel campus, living at the Edo-Osterloh-Haus was an offer she couldn’t refuse.

However, those weren‘t the only anxieties she had to endure. According to Eva, it would be much easier if Studentenwerk had a fully digital application form as the contract must be sent by post within eight days. “Another stressful step in the whole process of getting a dorm,” says Eva.

She adds that students should also be allowed to change a dormitory during the semester if needed. “Once you have accepted an offer and moved into a dorm, you will not be able to swap it for another dorm during the term, even if you have problems with your flatmates,” says the French international.

Differently from her, I, the journalist behind this article, Deividas, didn’t receive a single e-mail from any dormitory offering to stay for the whole semester. And I applied exactly once I found out I was surely going to Kiel.

With one week left until the start of Erasmus, I started trying all the remaining options—from “Kyle Studios” to the Deutsch-Nordische Burse. I found a place to stay for March at the guest house of the Wirtschaftsakademie Schleswig-Holstein, which for some others was, too, a last-second lifebuoy. But to find a room for the rest of the exchange program was challenging.

Luckily, on an online platform, an apartment was up for rent. However, with a condition—that I would find someone to take over the room when I leave, which is July of 2022.

Hopeless that I could find an alternative, I chose this option. The price, though, wasn’t as low as would have been in a Studentenwerk apartment—400 euros a month (compared to around 230 euros a month).

Students who can’t find an apartment in a public dorm can also try the private market. However, this could be a source of even more anxiety as cases of fraud occur when non-existent rooms are offered.

“That’s something we have to stress. It’s difficult to find something online not knowing the person, not being able to visit the apartment. [Scammers] act quite professionally, so it’s hard to spot it,” says Katharina Schüssler.

Studentenwerk: only half gets a room

According to Kerstin Klostermann, the press spokesperson of Studentenwerk Schleswig-Holstein, 718 people applied for an apartment in Kiel for the summer semester of 2022. However, only 161 free rooms could be offered.

“Some students who applied to us found accommodation elsewhere or studied at a different study location, so that we had 162 people on the waiting list in Kiel in the summer semester who were seriously interested in a place and to whom we could not offer one. So we can serve about half of the serious inquiries,” says Kerstin Klostermann.

She agrees that the situation was better in the previous years due to the number of inquiries being low during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Before the pandemic and now, demand is high again,” says Studentenwerk’s press spokesperson.

Applying early doesn‘t help?

As Katharina Schüssler says, sending an early application to get an apartment helps only when applying to private dormitories. „They have a “first come, first served” policy. With the Studentenwerk, it doesn’t help in so far that they have their application deadline, and everyone who applies by then has the same chance,” says the International student advisor.

People who had applied in February could find something before those who applied, let’s say, in December.

Eva Da Silva

In an e-mail those wanting to get a place at a Studentenwerk dorm receive, it says that “since we have more applicants than free rooms, the rooms will be raffled throughout the semester.” This means if you apply just before the semester starts, you still have a chance to get an apartment.

The lottery system, where everyone has equal possibilities to get a room, according to Eva Da Silva, is “really unfair”. “People who had applied in February could find something before those who applied, let’s say, in December,” says the French student.

Studentenwerk‘s press spokesperson Kerstin Klostermann explains that “the application deadline for the summer semester is January 15. and for the winter semester on July 15. Then a raffle takes place.“

Asked what can be done so as many incomings as possible could find an apartment, she says that new student dorms have to be built. “We are currently building a new dormitory for 46 people in Kiel. We are currently building two new halls of residence in Flensburg,” says Kerstin Klostermann.