The bad news reached Petra Fischer (name changed) and her husband on New Years Eve 2019, every day. After 36 years, they were told they should move out of their apartment in the Schöneberg district of downtown Berlin. The owner needed it for his daughter.
Since that day, the couple – both employees, she part-time – have been looking for new accommodation. They say they are ready to pay a maximum of € 800 ($ 965) in rent per month, about a third of their joint income and much more than before, for something close to what they have now: two bedrooms , a kitchen and bathroom and a balcony. They have filed a lawsuit against their impending eviction and must document their research efforts. So far they have submitted 120 nominations – without success.
“We would like to be nearby, because of course we are very rooted in our neighborhood. It’s understandable after so many years here, ”Fischer told TBEN. “My family also lives in the area and I have to take care of a relative.” Nonetheless, the 56-year-old woman and her husband searched for an affordable place across town.
They rely on the alert systems of real estate portals and municipal housing associations for new listings, but have also asked friends and acquaintances for leads. But they say many rental listings go off after just a few hours, and infrequent viewing appointments are often canceled at the last minute due to “high demand.”
There are few apartments in their price range, “and when there are, we just aren’t taken into account,” Fischer said. Apartments that require a social housing eligibility certificate are out of the question. They could have found an apartment in the new development across the street, but the price per square meter there was almost 20 euros. “It’s just too much,” Fischer said.
‘A huge demand for housing’
The Fischers are not alone. According to an analysis by the real estate portal Immowelt, rents in major German cities rose disproportionately between 2009 and 2019 – in the German capital by 104%. Berlin’s municipal housing association HOGOWE receives an average of 300 applications per apartment, according to an email sent to TBEN.
“We have been under enormous pressure on the demand for housing for years, especially in metropolitan areas and university towns,” Lukas Siebenkotten, chairman of the German Tenants Association (DMB), told TBEN. “Anyone who previously had a reasonably cheap apartment and can’t stay there … has almost no chance of finding something in the comparable price segment.” The situation is more difficult for people who earn just enough to not qualify for government assistance, he said.
One of the reasons for the shortage, according to the Social Housing Alliance, is that for years very little affordable housing has been built in metropolitan areas and growing regions.
Germany lacks around 670,000 apartments across the country. Matthias Günther, director of the Pestel Institute, a Hanover-based research institute, told a press conference in early February that almost all of the missing apartments are in the affordable rent or social housing sector. Not only that – some 43,000 social housing units disappear from the market each year, the Social Housing Alliance said.
The associations are now demanding, among other things, the construction of 80,000 new social housing units per year by 2030 – more than double the annual average from 2017 to 2019 – and they want 10% to be barrier-free for people with disabilities. physical.
Empty warehouses in Berlin-Spandau are being converted into apartments
At a housing summit in 2018, federal, state and local governments agreed to some measures to alleviate the situation, including a billion euros for the construction of social housing and tax incentives for the construction of apartments. rental. The goal was to create a total of 1.5 million new homes in Germany by the fall of 2021.
Interior Minister Horst Seehofer recently said that “1.5 million apartments will be under construction or completed” during the current legislative period, until September. On February 23, the government plans to present its assessment of the so-called housing offensive.
The pandemic as a danger – and an opportunity
Whatever the outcome, the housing shortage could worsen in the coming months due to the COVID-19 pandemic and unstable labor market, the Social Housing Alliance has warned. But he added that the crisis could present an opportunity: if working from home becomes the new normal, many offices could end up being converted into apartments. By 2025 alone, some 235,000 new apartments could potentially be created in office and administrative buildings, according to alliance estimates.
Urban researcher Frank Eckardt, professor at the Bauhaus University in Weimar, goes even further. Conversion could also be an option for other premises: “You saw in 2015/2016, for example, that you could suddenly convert a lot of vacant properties into shared accommodation for refugees – old supermarkets, DIY stores, vacant business premises or industrial halls, “he said. In the wake of the pandemic, he said, there will be many buildings vacant due to bankruptcies, including hotels.
“Why not think about putting in place a program to at least make an offer to those who are failing to make ends meet in the crisis to turn their property into suitable housing?” he said, calling it a “unique opportunity” for cities to create affordable housing.
Meanwhile, in Berlin, Petra Fischer and her husband must continue to hope that they will find a new apartment or be able to stay in their old one. Moving to another city is not an option, because of the close relative who depends on it. In a pinch, says Fischer, they may need to tidy up their furniture and stay with friends or family.
This article has been translated from German.