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Housing shortage: Why we need less concrete and more housing ideas

Housing shortage: Why we need less concrete and more housing ideas

There is actually enough living space for everyone, the space is just distributed incorrectly, our author believes. It would be much more important to think about an attractive redistribution instead of investing more and more billions in concrete, as is being demanded at today’s “Construction Industry Day”.

Once again the sirens are sounding: Germany is threatened by an “increased housing shortage.” This is the warning from Peter Hübner, President of the Construction Industry, as he prepares for the “Construction Industry Day” this Wednesday. The construction industry has commissioned a study from the German Economic Institute (IW), which is close to employers, for the event, at which the Chancellor will also be answering questions. According to the study, there is a gap of 512 billion euros in annual construction investments. According to the Cologne experts, spending would have to increase by 20 billion euros in real terms every year.

Sounds plausible. Who would doubt it? The usual comments: Dramatic! Irresponsible! Political failure!

Is that true? Or is it just scaremongering by an industry that wants to secure long-term contracts? Admittedly, there are undoubtedly too few apartments if you base it on current demand. This can be proven statistically just as easily as the fact that there are always far too few loungers by the pool, even though all the holidaymakers want them. That is not meant to sound cynical, but to illustrate a core problem: Germans’ demands on the location and size of their apartments are increasing faster than the supply can be expanded – even if there were enough money, workers and land available.

Living space per tenant has more than doubled

The development can be seen very clearly in the records of the Federal Statistical Office. 60 years ago, when the economic miracle was almost over, Germans lived on 22.3 square meters per person. Today it is 47.7 square meters, more than twice as much. The state and the private sector have always tried to take these demands into account. Since construction statistics began, an average of 405,000 new homes have been built each year, and at one point the figure was even over 700,000.

The consequences are painfully evident in the large areas of sealed areas and sprawling cities. Since 1950, the number of homes has almost tripled from 15.8 million to over 43 million. There is a more sustainable way. Of course, many believe that there was no alternative, as the population grew accordingly. No. The population has grown much more slowly, by just 39 percent since 1950, from 69 to 84 million.

Only 0.5 percent of households have three generations living together

In other words: Germany does not actually have a glaring problem with the supply of housing, the space is just distributed incorrectly. On average, two people live in one apartment today, and around one in six Germans even lives alone. Three generations under one roof, which used to be a common lifestyle, is now only found in 0.5 percent of all households.

The group “two adults without children” has made themselves most comfortable. Only 2.7 percent of their homes are “overcrowded” according to the definition of the “European Survey on Income and Living Conditions” (EU-SILC). The situation is tighter for households with children, where the overcrowding rate is just under 15.9 percent (which usually just means that not all children have their own room). Overall, however, Germany is doing much better than the EU average (17.1 percent). The Latvians, for example, have an overcrowding rate of over 42 percent – and are still much happier than the Germans, according to the European Statistics Office.

Sometimes statistics on the housing market create a false picture

Housing shortages are also always a question of definition. It wasn’t long ago that singles were proud of their chic, urban “one-room apartment”. Today, this very apartment appears in the housing statistics as “overcrowded” and is one of the signs of a rampant housing shortage. According to the EU-SILC definition, a one-person household must have a second room so that the housing situation is not classified as precarious. No matter how big the one-room apartment is.

What are the consequences of the findings? There is no question: on the one hand, construction must continue, especially housing for the socially disadvantaged in large cities who need public assistance. This constitutional mandate is the responsibility of local authorities, states and the federal government. And this is where the main failure in the past lies, when public administrations sold off their social housing in droves to fill up the city’s coffers.

On the other hand, we should – if only for the sake of sustainability – think much more carefully about how we can better manage the abundant living space in Germany, instead of always just calculating with fresh concrete and new bricks like the construction industry does. Perhaps someone will finally come up with clever bait that could entice people who are taking up far too much living space to make room for others.

Why no tax exemption for “living smaller?”

Parents whose children have moved out, for example. Why only tax exemption for electric cars and not for “living smaller”? Or shared apartments for the elderly, who already occupy the largest housing in the country. Why not have the state sponsor new forms of housing instead of investing in new buildings? Of course, changing apartments out of solidarity sounds utopian at first. But that shouldn’t stop anyone from thinking about it. Other countries are already much more creative. The age-friendly Danes, for example, have been promoting shared apartments for the elderly for years. These modern living concepts are in great demand and affordable. Denmark has not built retirement homes, which Germans fear and therefore often stay in their large apartments, since 1987.

One could even try the almost unthinkable: years ago, the student union in Cologne tore down the walls between the eight-square-meter chambers in a large dormitory complex to create 16-square-meter rooms. Otherwise, even first-year students would hardly want to move in there. Perhaps the walls could be rebuilt – because of the housing shortage among students. Two 16-square-meter rooms could be turned into three 10.6-square-meter rooms, which are also cheaper to rent. This would suddenly increase the number of dormitories available for those in need by 50 percent.

Source: Stern

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