Groningen residents sometimes live for years in ‘suitcase houses’

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Leaks at temporary Groningen transition homes
NOS News
  • Helen Ecker

    editor Climate and Energy

  • Reinald Start

    research editor

Thousands of Groningen residents live temporarily in a ‘suitcase house’, some even for years. These are temporary homes, which they have been assigned because their own house has to be demolished or reinforced because of the earthquakes. Meanwhile, their belongings are being stored.

The long-term stay in temporary accommodation causes a lot of stress, according to the NOS/NPO Radio 1 podcast ‘Gronings gas, won or lost’. The temporary houses are spread over some earthquake villages.

The final report of the Parliamentary Inquiry on Gas Extraction will be presented on Friday in Zeerijp in Groningen. Nowhere is this probably more eagerly awaited than in the temporary homes. They are fully furnished and residents only had to bring a suitcase with clothes, hence the name suitcase home. But for the people who have been living there for two or three years, a suitcase is no longer enough.

The official term for the accommodations is transitional housing. The National Coordinator Groningen must ensure that the residents are helped as quickly as possible with an earthquake-resistant house. They will get such an exchange house, is the intention. In practice, this often turns out to be much more difficult than residents had been promised.

Leaks

Trudy and Jan Bisschop from Ten Post heard seven years ago that their house was unsafe. It was too expensive to reinforce it, so demolition was the only option. Trudy was 63 at the time. Congratulations on her 70th birthday hang in the temporary home. She hung Christmas lights on the wall to hide the flaws in the temporary home. Rainwater runs down the wall. The sofa set is “junk,” says her husband Jan in the podcast.

To be able to sit better, they have added a good chair themselves. If everything finally goes according to plan, they can go to their new home this year.

A few blocks away, a family who wishes to remain anonymous has been living there for three years. Two of their three children were born in the suitcase home.

Another family, a little further away, has lived there for more than three years. They also want to return to their own homes. “We didn’t expect it to take this long. It would all go faster,” says Ingrid Grims. “It feels like a vacation rental.” A broken window has been taped shut with duct tape. The house also leaks.

stress

The house is difficult to heat and in the summer it was 40 degrees in her son’s room. “It is stressful, also because of the concerns about the new house. You have been fighting for your own life since 2016. You are being held hostage by the government and those authorities.”

Neighbor Harrie van Til is also fed up. In December 2016, he was at the meeting where residents were told that their home was unsafe. In the years that followed, he needed psychological help. “What is frustrating and what made us psychologically tied up: control was completely taken away from us. About our lives, the construction, the plans we had, what was possible and what was not possible, what was promised and what was not fulfilled .”

New Approach

National Coordinator Groningen Regina Bouius-Riemersma acknowledges that it is all taking too long. The first National Coordinator, Hans Alders, visited the villages in 2016 to tell people that things were looking bad for them. He promised an energetic approach. But the practice was different.

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    Demolition of houses in Ten Post in Groningen
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    A row of demolished houses in Ten Post in Groningen
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    Demolition of houses in Ten Post in Groningen

This had to do with costs, recalculations and new insights. And with needs of residents that were initially overlooked. Bouius-Riemersma agrees that Groningen residents have lost control of their lives. She therefore advocates a new step-by-step approach, in close consultation with the residents, the Gasberaad and Bodembeweging.

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    Row of new houses in Ten Post in Groningen
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