How can people still afford rent

Germany's rental market
is broken

The housing shortage

Everyone who lives in one of the coveted big cities and has already looked for an apartment there knows them and may have already experienced them themselves, the grotesque stories from the tenants' hell. If you urgently need an apartment, you can also meander through the 30-square-meter apartment with 50 other interested parties. He tells the broker everything he likes to hear and, without being asked, adds Schufa information, employment contract and salary statement on top of it. Many a respondent writes until the topic of “post-traumatic symptoms” alone triggers. Another that during one of the many mass viewings the landlord actually stood in front of the door with a kind of bell bag and asked for an entry fee of five euros for the tour. Most of the interested parties paid for it. And then there are those who prefer to stay in a noisy apartment rather than looking again:

"Better the noise than looking for a new apartment"

"Every two minutes a plane thunders over the apartment building in which I live. Transport planes fly over Cologne-Mülheim at night too, and glasses sometimes shake. I can feel the transport planes in my chest, ear plugs are compulsory for me. That in the long run is not good for people, you can read, even if many say: “You get used to it.” I am convinced that the noise is harmful to health in the long run. Nevertheless, I prefer to endure the noise than get myself a new apartment search.

After the experiences I made in Cologne until I moved here, I don't want to go looking again. Last summer I really tried everything: Facebook, newspaper ads and so on. I even placed a classified ad with a photo on Ebay. Then a man got in touch and offered me a three-room apartment, rent-free. In return, we would 'have fun' twice a month, he wrote. I found that pretty rough and of course I refused. Certainly there are women and men who get involved in something like this.

I spent three months looking for an apartment, checking my cell phone every half an hour, even at work. You have to respond quickly to new offers, after the first 50 emails the landlords stop reading the inquiries. When taking a tour I sometimes thought: Actually, you can't live here at all. For example, the carpet was completely torn, sloping floors in the old building, a view of the stinking exhaust system of a restaurant, dark holes ... Other landlords or people looking for a new tenant have demanded excessive down payments: 5000 euros for scrap furniture, for example. It works, some pay for it. People who don't have that much money anyway will find it even more difficult to find an apartment.

In the end I found the apartment in which I now live: three rooms, 58 square meters, 590 euros basic rent and another 150 euros for ancillary costs. It was one of the few I could afford. I was lucky - despite the planes. "

Nora, 42 years old, Cologne

The extreme competition not only increases the suffering of those looking for accommodation, as in these examples. It also exacerbates the lock-in effect. If the rising rental costs alone do not prevent you from moving, you may shy away from the scramble for viewings, from the lack of chances in the face of queues of applicants that reach around the next corner of the apartment block.

In the meantime, gentrification and the displacement of poorer residents from the coveted neighborhoods are no longer just discussed. The debate has long since got bigger. "There is still gentrification," says city researcher Friedrichs, "but apart from that, the housing shortage has become dramatic." Everyone is crowding into the cities, not just high earners, but also refugees, for example. “In the 1990s, cities let themselves be persuaded that the market would take care of it. But he didn't. " There is a shortage of social housing - but also of apartments for normal wage earners.

In the SZ survey, a good third of those questioned who did not want to move cited the time-consuming search as the reason for this. But even among those surveyed who are planning to move - a good half of this applies - a lock-in effect can be reflected if the motivation, or rather the necessity, is given, but the desire to move fails due to the reality of the market. After all, the reasons given are particularly often a change of location or the desire for a larger apartment, as in this case study: "My husband and I have been looking for a bigger apartment since I was three months pregnant with my daughter. The little one is now two and a half years old, will have a little brother in April and we're still looking for affordable housing. "

Apart from the direct effects on the private sector, the housing shortage reduces the flexibility demanded by working people to absurdity. The resulting lock-in effect also has several economic disadvantages, says Michael Voigtländer, real estate expert at the Institut der deutschen Wirtschaft (IW). “The housing market is not used efficiently. Mobility, which is important for the job market, is restricted. ”One participant in the SZ survey, an IT specialist, writes that he would have to earn 20,000 euros more per year to buy an apartment in Munich for a new job to be able to - unlike the rental costs, the salaries in the industry are similar nationwide. Even students who have to adjust to the range of courses and the start of the semester feel at the mercy of the housing market:

"I live in a shoebox"

"The housing market in Regensburg is one of those circles of hell that Dante does not mention in his divine comedy. At first I commuted 35 kilometers by train to the university. For half a year I had to torment my way through the housing market with countless mass viewings. When if you also have an alternative appearance, it is even more difficult. But it is hardest for people with a migration background. I came across my current apartment through a small advertisement in a local newspaper. The landlord wanted to take me immediately and I said yes. But more out of necessity than out of euphoria, because I don't have my own bathroom and I have to take a warm shower for three minutes and throw 50 cents into a machine. Now I live in a shoebox, but at least I am no longer at the mercy of the housing market and could one Accept a part-time job. And the shoebox is in a good downtown location. "

Felix Kleiber *, 26 years old, Regensburg

People who have special needs, such as the disabled or those who do not meet the ideal of the landlord, have an even harder time in the market. This not only applies to low-wage earners, but increasingly also to families:

Even more serious problems are faced by those who are also confronted with prejudices, especially against the background of the current worsening debate. And it is precisely the losers in a competitive housing market that exemplify its excesses and undesirable developments. One reader writes: "Looking for an apartment with my partner is almost unbearable. Because of his exotic-sounding surname, we were turned down a lot. Navid was born here in Germany, his mother is German and grew up here. Nevertheless, they hung up as soon as the broker heard his name or never We are relieved and happy that we finally found an apartment last year, even if it eats up about 45 percent of our income. "

When tenants have to transfer almost half of their income to the landlord and are also happy when people are no longer able to freely make their life decisions and are afraid for their place to stay, something is out of joint in Germany's housing market. However, the undesirable developments of the past few years are not irreversible. There are sensible countermeasures and good ideas - on a small scale, such as an internet exchange, through which tenants of the Berlin housing associations can easily swap their apartments without the usual drastic rent increases.

And there is also something moving on a large scale. The topic has arrived in Berlin. After all, the federal government is supporting states and municipalities with more than 1.5 billion euros in building social housing - as is planned in the budget. The rent brake, which so far has worked more badly than right, is expected to be sharpened from 2019, at least a little. And then the federal government has one more ambitious goal: "We want to achieve that 1.5 million apartments and houses are freely financed and publicly funded." That is what the coalition agreement says. With four years of government that would be 375,000 apartments per year. Sounds good, but in the housing industry there are great doubts as to whether this can succeed because there is a lack of building plots in the cities, building costs will tend to continue to rise and planning and approval procedures will take too long. So many people will keep looking for affordable housing. And those who can barely afford their rent will continue to fear how things will go on.

(* = Name changed)

editorial staffSabrina Ebitsch, Christian Endt
textHannah Beitzer, Sabrina Ebitsch, Christian Endt; Collaboration: Wolfgang Jaschensky, Thomas Öchsner
Data analysisChristian Endt, Martina Schories, Moritz Zajonz
graphicChristian Endt, Martina Schories, Sarah Unterhitzenberger, Moritz Zajonz
Video / illustration / designJessy Asmus, Manuel Kostrzynski, Sandra Sperling
programmingStefan Kloiber
Data sourcesNon-representative SZ survey, Empirica price database (Empirica systems), Federal Statistical Office