Housing

Germany Table of Contents

There is a wide range of housing stock in Germany, from mansions and country estates for the wealthy, to tents and welfare hotels for the needy and homeless. Most Germans live in self-contained apartments or in single-family houses. Single-story and two-story townhouse-like dwellings characterize the tidy neighborhoods of small towns and medium-sized cities, and high-rise apartment buildings are common in larger cities. In many communities, merchants, tradespeople, and shopkeepers continue to live above their stores, and clustered farmhouses still form the nucleus of many villages.

After World War II, West Germany faced a severe housing shortage. Not only had the war destroyed much of the housing, but the millions of refugees from the east had to find new accommodations. According to one estimate, there were 10 million dwellings for 17 million households. The housing shortage often forced several families to share a single dwelling. In the 1950s and 1960s, a tremendous surge in construction, supported heavily by the government, resulted in the construction of as many as 700,000 dwellings in a single year. Gradually, the housing crisis eased. The problems that persisted generally involved a shortage of affordable housing in urban areas. Housing conditions in East Germany also improved greatly. However, much of the housing was badly designed and poorly constructed, and even at the state's demise in 1990, the overall housing supply was inadequate.

Unification revealed significant differences in the quality, variety, and size of dwellings in the two Germanys. In West Germany, about 70 percent of the housing stock had been built after 1948, with 95 percent of the dwellings having their own bathrooms and 75 percent having central heating. In East Germany, 55 percent of the housing stock had been built before 1948, with only 75 percent of the dwellings having bathrooms and only 47 percent having central heating. In addition, much of the housing in East Germany was in poor condition because the authorities had maintained rents at such low levels that funds were not available for essential repairs.

In 1992 united Germany had approximately 34.5 million dwellings with 149 million rooms, for a total of 2.8 billion square meters of living space. Dwellings in the west were larger than those in the east. In 1992 dwellings in the old Lšnder had an average floor space of 82.7 square meters for an average of 35.1 square meters per person, compared with 64.5 square meters and an average of 29.0 square meters per person in the new Lšnder .

The federal government has responded with special measures to rectify housing problems in the new Lšnder , launching an ambitious program to upgrade and expand housing. By 1993 about 1.1 million units had been modernized. Specialists have estimated that bringing housing in the east up to western standards will require the construction of 140,000 new dwellings a year until 2005.

Unification also revealed significant differences with respect to home ownership. In the early 1990s, approximately 40 percent of residents owned their dwellings in the old Lšnder , compared with 25 percent in the new Lšnder .

Prior to unification, a housing shortage had developed in West Germany because of increased immigration and the rising number of single householders. The arrival of several million refugees, ethnic Germans, and eastern Germans coincided with a steep drop in the availability of inexpensive housing. Despite the construction of as many as 400,000 new dwellings each year, as of 1993 the need for housing outpaced the supply. A housing shortage exists because the country's 35 million households exceed the number of dwellings by about 500,000.

The housing shortage and a lack of available land for building in densely populated areas have driven up real estate prices. In 1992 a single-family free-standing house with 125 square meters of floor space cost DM300,000 in Dresden, DM450,000 in Hamburg, DM590,000 in Frankfurt am Main, DM800,000 in Berlin, and DM910,000 in Munich. In western Germany, the average price of building land was DM129 per square meter, compared with DM32 per square meter in the east.

Because decent housing is seen as a basic right in Germany, the government provides financial aid to households devoting too great a share of their income to housing costs. The aid can subsidize their rents or help pay mortgages. In the early 1990s, some 3 million households received this type of aid. Despite these programs, however, homelessness remains a problem. In the early 1990s, some specialists estimated the number of homeless at between 800,000 and 1 million, while others believed it to be as low as 150,000. The homeless receive aid from government and charitable organizations, which provide an array of social services and shelters (see Provisions of the Social Welfare System, ch. 4).

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress