Local elections 2020 Why it's difficult to find affordable housing in Bonn

Bonn · The city of Bonn wants to provide more subsidized housing because there is currently a shortage. Every year 2,000 people move to Bonn, which exacerbates the housing problem. Other causes also contribute to the lack of affordable housing.

 New apartments are to be built in place of a former clinic in Bonn.

New apartments are to be built in place of a former clinic in Bonn.

Foto: Benjamin Westhoff

Local elections will be held on September 13. The General-Anzeiger will be analyzing various key issues in the coming weeks. The Bonn housing market is the first.

  • This is the situation: Bonn is growing. On average, 2,000 people move to the city every year, competing for living space. And it is quite expensive. The Internet portal 'wohnungsboerse.net' states in its rent index for July 2020 that the average cold rent in Bonn is 10.83 euros per square meter. That is almost three euros more than the NRW average (7.95 euros per square meter). The districts of Schwarzrheindorf (13.50 euros), Südstadt (12.88 euros), Duisdorf (12.61 euros), Vilich (12.10 euros) and Bonn city center (12.05 euros) are particularly expensive. The cheapest rental accommodations are in Lessenich-Meßdorf (7.89 Euro), on the Brüser Berg (8.65 Euro) and in Tannenbusch (9.00 Euro).

But the higher rents are not reflected in an increase in the income of Bonn's citizens. In July 2019, Lord Mayor Ashok Sridharan said that the city estimated that half of the households were entitled to a permit for subsidized housing. In a one-person household, anyone earning less than 19,350 euros per year is entitled to the permit; in a two-person household the figure is 23,310 euros. The limit is higher with children. "In Bonn there are currently about 10,000 apartments with fixed rents, which can be made available to people with a permit for subsidized housing," the city of Bonn continued in its communication at the time. These apartments are reserved for low-income earners. However, about 40 percent are to be removed from that obligation by the year 2030, while according to the city, the waiting list for apartment allocation is becoming longer and longer.

  • The core problem: It is difficult to identify one major problem causing the housing misery in Bonn. "The problem is multi-causal", says Peter Kox, managing director of the Tenants' Association Bonn. "There is not one explanation.” The basic problem is certainly political neglect. In the (Chancellor Helmut) Kohl era, there was a huge cutback in public housing and for decades after that, nothing was really done about it.

Peter Kox experiences the battle for housing on a regular basis. "It happens several times a day in our country that people are confronted with eviction suits or landlords kick them out because they want the place back for their own use. The landlords want to get people out on the most absurd grounds."

According to a study by the Hans Böckler Foundation, Bonn is one of the more expensive cities nationwide in terms of average rents. According to the study, a Bonn resident currently spends 45.5 percent of his or her net income on the gross cold rent. In principle, a maximum of 30 percent should be budgeted for this, the city of Bonn acknowledged in a press release last year. However, the portion of income spent on rent could be much higher. "The apartments will always get rented. They can charge what they want. There are enough people whose need is great enough," says Kox. And the half of the income goes to rent.

  • These are the solutions: The administration is well aware that the city has a massive housing problem. That's why more than three years ago, politicians adopted the Bonn "Baulandmodell" ("Building Land Model"). The aim was to create more subsidized housing. For example, investors are to construct 40 percent of the apartments in their new construction projects as subsidized or reduced-price rental housing. However, this quota only applies to buildings with 25 or more residential units. For those with twelve to 24 residential units, 20 percent should be subsidized housing. The building model also calls for investors to build kindergartens.

Last year, another project was launched that is dedicated to the topic of subsidized housing. Spearheaded by Carolin Krause, head of the social services department, it is intended to improve the conditions so that more subsidized housing can be built in the urban areas. Experts from the entire administration are part of the group. Sridharan appealed to them to “bring in your skills and knowledge to jointly develop strategies to strengthen subsidized housing construction.” Peter Kox said the project group is a good thing. "That's when they realized where the problem lies. It's good that the city has also brought in the Departments of Planning and Building."

Carolin Krause is certain that a lot has already been achieved during the project. According to Krause, some regulations have made subsidized housing construction more attractive. These include, for example, the reduction of parking spaces for publicly subsidized apartments. Or a reduced market price in the sale of municipal land for subsidized housing construction.

  • Time is needed: The minimum quota for subsidized housing, as stipulated by the building land model, was decided by the city council in 2017 and ratified in July 2018. According to Petra Denny, head of the city planning office, concrete results in the form of actual apartments will take some time. It takes awhile for the building model to be implemented.

Currently, the city of Bonn is working on about 60 planning projects. "Due to the complexity of the development plan process, numerous political consultations on different levels and public participation, such projects usually take several years," says Petra Denny. Eleven projects fall under the “Baulandmodell”. According to estimates by the administration, this means a total of around 1,200 residential units. With the 40 percent quota, about 480 publicly subsidized residential units will be built.

The fact that the construction of new apartments is lagging behind demand is not only due to the city, however. "We must also see that there are limits", says Krause. "We cannot change the general economic situation. The availability of land is limited, and Bonn is a growing city that attracts people." The attractiveness of the city aggravates the conditions on the housing market.

Despite all the efforts of the city, not enough is happening in the housing market. Peter Kox sees little success in the city's efforts. "First and foremost, there is post-densification. The result of the "Baulandmodell" model has so far been zero," says Kox. The fact that 40 percent of subsidized housing is only required for buildings with 25 or more residential units is nonsense. "That has to be reduced considerably. But at least there is a decision. You can't go back on that either."

Orig. text: Thomas Leurs

Translation: ck

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