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COVID aggravates Germany's housing crisis!

In German cities, affordable housing is also scarce. The coronavirus pandemic hasn't made things any easier. للبيع

Petra Fischer (real name changed) and her husband received the unfortunate news on New Year's Eve 2019, of all days. They were informed they would have to leave their apartment in Berlin's Schöneberg district after 36 years. It was essential for the owner's daughter.

The couple — both working full-time, she part-time — has been searching for a new place to live since that day. They claim they are willing to pay a monthly rent of up to €800 ($965), around a third of their combined income and significantly more than before, for something similar to what they have now: two rooms, a kitchen and bathroom, and a balcony. They've filed a lawsuit to stop their eviction, and they'll have to keep track of their search. They've submitted 120 applications so far, all of which have been rejected

"We'd like to be close by because we're deeply rooted in our community. After so many years in this city, it's understandable "Fischer said to DW. "My family also lives nearby, and I'm responsible for one of my relatives." Despite this, the 56-year-old and her husband have been scouring the city for an affordable place to live.

Berliners are dealing with skyrocketing rents.

They use real estate websites and municipal housing associations' warning systems for new listings, but they've also asked friends and acquaintances for leads. However, many rental ads are deactivated after just a few hours, and unusual viewing appointments are often cancelled at the last minute due to "strong demand," according to them.

"There are few apartments in our price range," Fischer said, "and when there are, we're just not considered." Apartments that include a certificate of social housing eligibility are not an option. They may have found an apartment in the new building across the street, but it would have cost them nearly €20 per square meter. "That's way too soon," Fischer expressed his displeasure.

The Fischers aren't the only ones who think this way. Rents in major German cities have risen disproportionately between 2009 and 2019, according to a report by the real estate site Immowelt, with the German capital rising by 104 percent. According to an email sent to DW by Berlin's municipal housing association, HOGOWE, each apartment receives an average of 300 applications.

"We've had enormous housing demand pressure for years, particularly in metropolitan areas and university cities," said Lukas Siebenkotten, president of the German Tenants' Association (DMB). "Anyone who previously had a relatively affordable apartment and is no longer able to stay there... has almost no chance of finding anything in a comparable price range." According to him, the situation is particularly difficult for those who receive only enough to be unavailable for government assistance.

According to the Alliance for Social Housing, one explanation for the shortage is that very little affordable housing has been developed in metropolitan areas and development regions for years.

Approximately 670,000 apartments are required in Germany. Nearly all of the missing homes, according to Matthias Günther, the head of the Pestel Institute, a research institute located in Hanover, are in the affordable rent or social housing market. Not only that, but the Alliance for Affordable Housing estimates that 43,000 social housing units are lost to the market each year.

The groups are now proposing, among other things, the construction of 80,000 new social housing units each year by 2030, which is more than double the annual average from 2017 to 2019, and that 10% of such units be barrier-free for people with physical disabilities.

At a housing conference in 2018, the federal, state, and local governments agreed on several steps to help alleviate the crisis. A billion euros are set aside for the construction of social housing, as well as tax breaks for the construction of rental apartments. By the fall of 2021, the target was to build 1.5 million new homes in Germany.

Horst Seehofer, the Interior Minister, recently stated that "1.5 million apartments will be under construction or finished" during the current legislative session, which runs until September. The government intends to present its review of the so-called housing offensive on February 23.

Whatever the outcome, the Alliance for Social Housing has warned that the housing crisis could worsen in the coming months as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and an uncertain labor market. However, the crisis could present an opportunity: if working from home becomes the new standard, several offices may be transformed into apartments, according to the study. According to the alliance's figures, approximately 235,000 new apartments will be created in office and administrative buildings by 2025.

Professor Frank Eckardt of the Bauhaus University in Weimar, an urban scholar, takes it a step further. "You saw in 2015/2016, for example, how you might instantly turn quite a number of empty properties into shared accommodation for refugees — old supermarkets, DIY shops, vacant commercial premises or industrial halls," he said. He predicted that in the aftermath of the pandemic, several houses, including hotels, would be vacant due to bankruptcies.

"Why not consider establishing a program to at the very least make an offer to those who are struggling to make ends meet in this crisis to turn their property into suitable housing?" He described it as a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" for cities to build affordable housing.

Meanwhile, Petra Fischer and her husband in Berlin must continue to hope that they will be able to find a new apartment or that they will be allowed to stay in their current one. Because of a nearby relative who relies on them, moving to another city is not a choice. In a pinch, they may have to store their belongings and remain with friends or relatives, according to Fischer.


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