Number of social housing units drops by 42,000 in Germany

Social housing stock in Germany is continuing to shrink, new figures show.

Number of social housing units drops by 42,000 in Germany
The facade of apartment blocks in Berlin. Photo: DPA

Last year, significantly more housing for people on low incomes was lost to the market than was newly built, leading to a drop in the overall number of units.

At the end of 2018, there were nearly 42,500 fewer social housing units than a year earlier, a drop of 3.5 percent, according to an inquiry by The Left (die Linke) party in Germany put to the Interior Ministry.

In total there were 1.8 million state-subsidized social housing units being let out in Germany at the turn of the year.

READ ALSO: What Germany is doing to keep rents down

Two states increased social housing

The figures are declining in almost all of Germany’s states except Bavaria, where 1,285 more social housing units were built last year than were lost to the market. The eastern state of Saxony also increased its social housing stock by 161 units.

In Berlin, which has around 100,000 units, the ratio remained stable. However, it's a big drop compared to the 1990s when the number of social housing units in the capital was about 360,000.

In neighbouring state Brandenburg, social housing stock shrank by more than 12,200 dwellings or almost 30 percent within one year.

The most social housing per citizen in 2018 was in the city states of Hamburg and Berlin, and the fewest in Saarland and Saxony-Anhalt. 

In terms of numbers, North Rhine-Westphalia, the most populous German state, last year had more than 450,000 subsidized flats, while Saarland had 530.

The rents for these apartments and houses, which are aimed at those on low incomes or in need of support, are regulated by the state and are therefore low compared to the cost of living in privately rented homes.

Social homes being lost to the market

So why is Germany losing its social housing stock? The issue is two-fold: firstly, state-subsidized homes return to the mainstream market after a certain period of time, usually about 30 years.  They are then rented out like any other apartment on the market and with much higher rents. 

READ ALSO: Berlin seeks to keep rents down on commercial properties to save small shops

Adding to that is the fact that relatively few new social housing units have been built since the 1980s so those that are being lost are not replaced. In the past 15 years the number of homes in this category has halved.

Although more flats are being built with state subsidies,  it's not enough to keep the total number constant. Last year alone, according to statistics, around 70,000 social housing units were lost nationwide, and around 27,000 newly built.

The Left party’s housing expert Caren Lay is calling for a “rescue programme for social housing construction”. 

Instead of reducing subsidies to states as planned, €10 billion would have to be invested and 250,000 new social housing units built. Last year, the federal government made around €1.5 billion available to the 16 states for so-called housing subsidies.

In addition, once subsidized social housing has been built, it must always remain social housing, Lay told DPA. According to Lay's calculations, Germany currently lacks more than five million flats for people with low incomes.

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Living in Germany: Battles over Bürgergeld, rolling the ‘die’ and carnival lingo

From the push to reform long-term unemployment benefits to the lingo you need to know as Carnival season kicks off, we look at the highlights of life in Germany.

Living in Germany: Battles over Bürgergeld, rolling the 'die' and carnival lingo

Deadlock looms as debates over Bürgergeld heat up 

Following a vote in the Bundestag on Thursday, the government’s planned reforms to long-term unemployment benefits are one step closer to becoming reality. Replacing the controversial Hartz IV system, Bürgergeld (or Citizens’ Allowance) is intended to be a fair bit easier on claimants.

Not only will the monthly payment be raised from €449 to €502, but jobseekers will also be given a grace period of two years before checks are carried out on the size of their apartment or savings of up to €60,000. The system will also move away from sanctions with a so-called “trust period” of six months, during which benefits won’t be docked at all – except in very extreme circumstances. 

Speaking in parliament, Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) said the spirit of the new system was “solidarity, trust and encouragement” and praised the fact that Bürgergeld would help people get back into the job market with funding for training and education. But not everyone is happy about the changes. In particular, politicians from the opposition CDU/CSU parties have responded with outrage at the move away from sanctions.

CDU leader Friedrich Merz has even branded the system a step towards “unconditional Basic Income” and argued that nobody will be incentivised to return to work. 

The CDU and CSU are now threatening to block the Bürgergeld legislation when it’s put to a vote in the Bundesrat on Monday. With the conservatives controlling most of the federal states – and thus most of the seats in the upper house – things could get interesting. Be sure to keep an eye out for our coverage in the coming weeks to see how the saga unfolds. 

Tweet of the week

When you first start learning German, picking the right article to use can truly be a roll of the “die” – so we’re entirely on board with this slightly unconventional way to decide whether you’re in a “der”, “die”, or “das” situation. (Warning: this may not improve your German.) 

Where is this?

Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Boris Roessler

Residents of Frankfurt am Main and the surrounding area will no doubt recognise this as the charming town of Kronberg, which is nestled at the foot of the Taunus mountains.

This atmospheric scene was snapped on Friday morning, when a drop in temperatures saw Kronberg and surrounding forests shrouded in autumnal fog.

After a decidedly warm start to November, the mercury is expected to drop into single digits over the weekend. 

Did you know?

November 11th marked the start of carnival season in Germany. But did you know that there’s a whole set of lingo to go along with the tradition? And it all depends on where you are. First of all, the celebration isn’t called the same thing everywhere. In the Rhineland, it’s usually called Karneval, while people in Bavaria or Saxony tend to call it Fasching. Those in Hesse and Saarland usually call it Fastnacht. 

And depending on where you are, there are different things to shout. The ‘fools call’ you’ll hear in Cologne is “Alaaf!” If you move away from Cologne, you’ll hear “Helau!” This is the traditional cry in the carnival strongholds of Düsseldorf and Mainz, as well as in some other German cities.

In the Swabian-Alemannic language region in the southwest of the country, people yell “Narri-Narro”, which means “I’m a fool, you’re a fool”. In Saarland at the French border, they shout “Alleh hopp!”, which is said to originate from the French language. 

Lastly, if someone offers you a Fastnachtskrapfe, say yes because it’s a jelly-filled carnival donut. And if you’re offered a Bützchen? It’s your call, but know that it’s a little kiss given to strangers!