#7 Where are the student rooms? Reinvesting in student housing

Nele Aernouts (VUB), Nicolas Bernard (UCLouvain Saint-Louis Bruxelles), Michel Hubert (USL-B, ULB), Grégoire Ranson (PLE), Gilles Rasson (Brik), Joren Sansen (VUB), Benjamin Wayens (ULB)

Editorial coordination: Céline Gautier

“Student studios with standing”, built between the VUB and ULB campuses (Ixelles, Brussels).
Picture: T. Debroux, 2024.

Translation: Jane Corrigan

Où sont les kots ? Réinvestir dans le logement étudiant

Waar zijn nog koten te vinden? Opnieuw investeren in studentenhuisvestin

The BSI Position Papers reflect the opinions, thoughts and recommendations of the authors, and are not attributable in any way to Brussels Studies and the Brussels Studies Institute (BSI). The authors assume full responsibility for them.

Over the past ten years, the number of students in Brussels has been rising steadily, but paradoxically, public authorities, universities and higher education institutions have invested very little in accessible housing adapted to this specific population. Given the urgency of the situation, we call on the regional authorities to reinvest in student housing and to control private supply.

Making Brussels a major European university capital is an ambition widely shared by the regional and academic authorities. With 4 universities and 14 higher education institutions in the region, the 19 municipalities offer a very wide range of higher education options, with approximately 140,000 students registered (excluding exchange students and unregistered students). Of these, 20% did not live in Belgium before their higher education, according to a survey conducted by perspective.brussels (Perspective) in 20201. Between 2011 and 2021, the total number of regular registered students rose by 45%, and the number of international students by 57%2.

In the 2020 Perspective survey, 42% of respondents from French-language institutions and 30.4% from Dutch-language institutions indicated that they had encountered difficulties when looking for housing. According to the same survey, the average rent (including service charges) is 506 euros. It is approximately 100 euros higher for international students3.

An analysis of the housing available at institutions or on platforms such as Mykot, for example, shows that the investment in housing by institutions or the public authorities has not kept pace with the increase in student numbers over the past decades.

As a result, there is a shortage of student housing and it is too expensive with respect to the demand. As a result, more and more students have been opting for flatshare, which allows them to reduce the cost of housing, but also has an impact on other segments of the rental market, already under considerable pressure.

However, it would be incorrect to assume that this shortage of student housing only concerns and affects international or non-Brussels students. Young people in Brussels also suffer from the lack of intermediate housing when they move out of the family home to live on their own. This contributes to widening economic and social inequalities and delays the independence of young adults, especially in the working classes. In Brussels, “Tanguy” – the figure of the young person who still lives with his parents – is statistically more likely to be called Nour, Lina or Mohamed, and has not chosen to be in this situation. In the absence of an affordable alternative, he or she is often forced to stay in a family home which is not well suited to the pursuit of his or her studies (overcrowding, fuel poverty, squalor, etc.) and to his or her personal development. A survey conducted in France by the Observatoire de la Vie Étudiante4 as well as a report on the economic resources of ULB students5 show that independence and leaving the family home tend to increase with age, but go hand in hand with a decline in family financial support, which contributes to the insecurity of older students6.

These analyses also show that the transition to adulthood and living independently (leaving the family home) often takes place via intermediate stages, such as semi-independent living (returning to the family home several weekends per month). A segment of the student population also live with a partner and/or with children, blurring the usual boundaries between students and families on the rental market.

It should be noted that the academic authorities do not always turn a deaf ear to the distress of their students, particularly those who cannot study or stay at home due to heating difficulties or not having a quiet space. They try to respond to this situation by providing study facilities, the number of which is also insufficient. It should also be noted that among those lucky enough to have found housing, the payment of rent and service charges often leads to disproportionate pressure, which forces them to work many hours a week, distracting them from their studies and depriving them of time for socialisation or rest7.

In our view, this is not simply a question of finances or a mismatch between supply and demand, forcing people to rely on the dynamics of the private market. By offering a first experience of life outside the family, student housing must be seen as playing a role in a person’s mental health, well-being and empowerment.

Authorities unengaged

During the current legislature, the issue of student housing has hardly been on the agenda of the regional government. Under the previous legislature (2014-2019), two measures were taken: the establishment of a “student lease” and a “student housing label”. But these advances are still limited, and have had no impact on the majority of students. According to the Perspective study (2020), these leases concerned 32% of students occupying housing8. According to the Direction de l’Inspection Régionale du Logement (DIRL), only 137 units have received the label in the last 4 years.

Regional stakeholders are sorely lacking in awareness of all the economic and social issues involved in student housing. Few reliable studies have been carried out on the subject9. For example, we have no idea how many young people give up their studies or change their pathways for material reasons. Nor do we know how these situations which they did not choose impact their personal or professional development.

We can, however, point to some current trends in student housing.

A critical shortage of student rooms

The public authorities and universities have partly offloaded the responsibility for student housing. 10 years ago, 87% of students living independently were in housing other than halls of residence10.

They turn to privately managed student housing or the traditional rental market, sometimes for very high rent and service charges. The issue is therefore left almost entirely in the hands of the private sector, for which this segment is a windfall and a highly attractive investment product. Renting smaller units increases the rental yield per m2.

Studio flats taken over by the private sector

Private developers investing in student housing prefer self-contained studio flats to collective units (individual bedrooms, kitchens and possibly, shared bathrooms and toilets). These studio flats have the distinctive feature of being able to be rented out to other segments of the rental market, in need of bottom-of-the-range studio flats with flexible leases11. Sold or rented individually, these pseudo student rooms are much more profitable for developers. They are also more attractive for the municipalities, which collect personal income tax (IPP) if the tenants declare them as their main residence.

Converting family homes into shared accommodation

In contrast to the reclaiming of studio flats by the market, students are renting large flats or houses intended for large families12. Rather than pay 600-700 euros (plus service charges) for an individual studio flat, these students prefer to pay 500 euros for a bedroom and shared spaces in housing offered by the private market or even by flatshare companies, which set their rates without intervention from the public authorities13. The lack of affordable housing therefore impacts students as well as households. Elsewhere, attempts are being made to restrict shared accommodation, as in Ghent, where it is now forbidden for students to rent a single-family house together14.

Students moving to the outskirts

Some students with housing problems move away from the neighbourhood or even the city where their educational institution is located. More than 6% of students who live in student housing live outside the Brussels Region10. In the short term, this relocation of students to towns in the outskirts solves the housing problem for the Brussels authorities, but in the medium term destroys the connection with the city in which students are pursuing their studies. Municipalities in the outskirts and property developers are seizing this opportunity.

It is therefore becoming urgent for the Brussels Region to take a stance on these various movements of the market in response to the shortage of student and small-sized housing in the city. At present, the Region stands out due to its lack of harmonisation and commitment to these issues.

The urgent need for action

As the regional legislature draws to a close, we would like to call on future elected representatives and universities to make every effort to guarantee students a proper and sufficient housing supply. In the broader context of a housing crisis in Brussels, we feel that two complementary priorities need to be put on the agenda: public reinvestment in student housing and strict control of private supply.

Public reinvestment in student housing

We cannot overlook the situation of public finances in the Brussels Region and the underfunding of universities. However, these institutions have housing/building budgets and long-term borrowing capacities which could be better mobilised.

As we have seen, investment in student housing results from political choices, and is directly linked to the fight against insecurity and social inequalities.

Furthermore, although we cannot compare the different groups, an improvement in supply for students could help relieve some of the pressure on the Brussels rental market.

Controlling the private supply

In our view, there are three concrete actions which the authorities could consider in order to have better control of the private housing supply:

  • (Re)prioritise collective units, i.e. small individual bedrooms with shared spaces. Renovating and converting office buildings and other non-residential spaces into student housing could be a good way to do this. For large-scale projects, sharing collective infrastructures on a site rather than in a building would help to limit development and maintenance costs.
  • Impose a strict framework for private developers to ensure that they create a specific offer for students and do not end up marketing it to other potentially more lucrative sectors. One way of guaranteeing lower rent could be to entrust housing to student social housing agencies (AISE), which rent at below-market rates.
  • Review the student housing label by developing a scale (from A to G, for example, as in the case of PEB) for safety, health and comfort, so as to provide students with objective information.

In conclusion, we call on the public authorities and universities to assume their responsibilities. Students and their families need a firm commitment on their part. From now on, any budget allocated to student housing should be used to improve living and studying conditions for the most disadvantaged.


COLLECTIF ÉTUDIANTS, 2022. L’Épreuve. Six destins étudiants. In: Séminaire d’Étude approfondie de questions de sociologie II, Faculté de Philosophie et sciences sociales, Université libre de Bruxelles. Educational tool. Available at: https://cvb.be/en/movie/lepreuve-six-destins-etudiants
HNUP Babette, 2024. Des alternatives pour loger les étudiants. In: Arte Regards. Television programme. 28/02/2024. Available at: https://www.arte.tv/fr/videos/111752-010-A/arte-regards/
SINTES Fabienne, 2023. Logement étudiant, quelle galère !, In: France Inter, Le 18/20 · Le téléphone sonne. Podcast. 13/09/2023. Available at: https://www.radiofrance.fr/franceinter/podcasts/le-18-20-le-telephone-sonne/le-18-20-le-telephone-sonne-du-mercredi-13-septembre-2023-7717344
VAESEN Joost et WAYENS Benjamin, 2014. Higher Education and Brussels. In: Brussels Studies, Synopses, no. 76. 23/04/2014. Available at: https://journals.openedition.org/brussels/1219 ; DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/brussels.1219


Nele Aernouts is assistant professor at the Cosmopolis Centre for Urban Research, Vrije Universiteit Brussel. Her research and teaching revolve around alternative housing initiatives and planning processes aimed at tackling housing insecurity and social-spatial exclusion. Amongst others, she has explored the participation of housing institutions, third sector organizations and residents in the regeneration of social housing, as well as community-based responses to the housing crisis.

Nicolas Bernard is a professor of law at UCLouvain Saint-Louis Bruxelles and a former expert in ministerial cabinets. He was vice-chairman of the Plateforme logement étudiant and is a member of the general assembly of the Agence Immobilière Sociale Étudiant. He is in no way expressing the views of these institutions here.

Michel Hubert holds a doctorate in sociology, is a professor emeritus at Université Saint-Louis – Bruxelles and at Université libre de Bruxelles, where he still teaches the sociology of mobility. As a representative of the latter university, he chairs the Plateforme logement étudiant (PLE), which is the preferred partner of the Pôle académique de Bruxelles in this area.

Grégoire Ranson is the director of the Plateforme logement étudiant. Within the association and alongside other stakeholders in the student housing sector, he contributes to facilitating access to housing for students in Brussels. He also works with the PLE team to create and distribute information and awareness-raising tools for students and landlords.

Gilles Rasson is managing director of Brik – Student in Brussels and teaches strategic management at the KU Leuven.

Joren Sansen is a researcher at the Cosmopolis Centre for Urban Research at Vrije Universteit Brussel and works on the social and spatial aspects of housing. At Steunpunt Wonen, he conducts fundamental and policy research, including several studies on student housing policy in Flanders and its monitoring.

Benjamin Wayens is a geographer and coordinator of the interdisciplinary network of studies on Brussels (EBxl) at Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB). He has nonetheless developed in-depth expertise in quantitative urban observation and analysis of the logic behind the location of activities. He teaches applied geography and geomarketing and has been conducting research in this field for 20 years, with school systems in Brussels and Belgium as his preferred fields of study.

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To cite this post: AERNOUTS Nele, BERNARD Nicolas, HUBERT Michel, RANSON Grégoire, RASSON Gilles, SANSEN Joren and WAYENS Benjamin, 2024. Where are the student rooms? Reinvesting in student housing. In : BSI Position Papers, no. 7, 03/06/2024. Available at: https://bsiposition.hypotheses.org/?p=3293

Cite this blog post
bsipositionpapers (2024, June 3). #7 Where are the student rooms? Reinvesting in student housing. BSI Position Papers. Retrieved June 19, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/11ror

  1. ALBEA Rodrigo, DONDERS Elisa and GLORIE Alice, 2020. Panorama de la vie étudiante: pratiques urbaines et rapport à la ville. Analyse de l’enquête 2019-2020. Brussels: perspective.brussels. This survey was conducted on the initiative of the student life unit of perspective.brussels, the government agency for regional planning in the Brussels Region. Over 4,000 students took part on a voluntary basis, which means that the sample obtained does not reflect all components of the student population. []
  2. Calculations based on IBSA data, Population scolaire: enseignement supérieur universitaire et non universitaire, 2011-2012 and 2021-2022. Available at: https://ibsa.brussels/themes/enseignement/population-scolaire []
  3. SANSEN Joren and VAN DEN BROECK Katleen, 2024. Monitor studentenhuisvesting. Een verkenning. Leuven: Steunpunt Wonen. []
  4. GIRET Jean-François, VAN DE VELDE Cécile and VERLEY Élise (eds.), 2016. Les vies étudiantes. Tendances et inégalités. Paris: La documentation française. []
  5. OBSERVATOIRE DE LA VIE ÉTUDIANTE, 2021. Enquête sur les ressources économiques des étudiant·es, Rapport analytique. Brussels: Université libre de Bruxelles. Available at: https://www.ulb.be/fr/ove/rapport-analytique-enquete-sur-les-ressources-economiques-des-etudiant%C2%B7es []
  6. Yet, there are proportionately more older students in higher education institutions in Brussels than in the other two regions. At ULB, for example, 15% of students registered in 2020-21 were over the age of 27 (Ibidem). []
  7. GIRÈS Joël, forthcoming. Inégalités sociales de réussite à l’université. In: Brussels Studies. []
  8. The report itself specifies that this figure must be considered with caution, given the risk of confusion with regular leases. []
  9. Let us mention:
    ALBEA Rodrigo, DONDERS Elisa and GLORIE Alice, 2020. Op. cit.
    DIGGIT STUDENTLIFE & STADIM, 2021. Kotkompas 2021. Update van de Belgische markt van studentenhuisvesting.
    BRIK, 2022. Manifeste pour un logement étudiant moderne, abordable et de qualité. Available at:  https://www.brik.be/nl/op-kot/manifest-voor-betere-brusselse-studentenhuisvesting []
  10. ALBEA Rodrigo, DONDERS Elisa and GLORIE Alice, 2020. Op. cit. [] []
  11. CASIER Charlotte, 2023. Le coliving ou la financiarisation des maisons bruxelloises. In: Brussels Studies, General Collection, No 179, 23/04/2023. Available at: http://journals.openedition.org/brussels/6781; DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/brussels.6781 []
  12. LEDENT Gérald and SALEMBIER Chloé. Home Sharing in Brussels. Understanding Citizen-run Forms of Home-Sharing through the Analysis of an activist list: Berta. In: ENHR Conference: Urban regeneration – shines and shadows. Conference. Lodz, Poland. 28-30/06/2023. Available at: https://dial.uclouvain.be/pr/boreal/object/boreal:277020 []
  13. CASIER Charlotte, 2023. Op. cit. []
  14. See the press article in Het Laatste Nieuws “Nog steeds wonen bijna 10.000 Gentse studenten ‘illegaal’ in gezinswoning of appartement: welke boetes riskeren ze?”). Available at: https://www.hln.be/gent/nog-steeds-wonen-bijna-10-000-gentse-studenten-illegaal-in-gezinswoning-of-appartement-welke-boetes-riskeren-ze~a2db0b1d/?referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F []
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