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HOUSING

Half of big city households in Germany ‘spend over 30 percent of income on rent’

While the rental burden on households has dropped overall over the past two decades, people living in the major cities are still spending a big chunk of their income on rents - with the poorest among the hardest hit.

Half of big city households in Germany 'spend over 30 percent of income on rent'
Newly constructed housing in Frankfurt. Photo: dpa | Sebastian Gollnow

Almost half of the roughly 8.4 million households with a rental apartment in a major German city spend more than 30 percent of their net income on rent, according to a new study funded by the trade union-affiliated Hans Böckler Foundation.

Roughly a quarter of households have to spend at least 40 percent of their income on their Warmmiete (rent including heating costs) and ancillary costs, the study found, while just under 12 percent of metropolitan households spent more than half of their income on rent.

The findings were based on an analysis of the 2018 micro census carried out by researchers from Humboldt University Berlin.

Their analysis also showed that the financial burden of rents on tenants has declined in recent years due to the fact that, even among residents of major cities, incomes have risen faster than housing costs.

Overall, tenants spent some 29.6 percent of their income on rent in 2018, down from 31.2 percent in 2001.

Increased construction activity has at best only slightly improved the housing shortage in recent years, the Böckler Foundation stressed, referring to the study.

There is a particular shortage of small and inexpensive apartments, the supply of which has dropped significantly in recent years, the foundation said.

The Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) has also concluded that rents now place slightly less burden on households overall in comparison with a few years ago.

According to its data, in 2019 just under 14 percent of the population (around 11.4 million people) lived in households that were financially overburdened by high housing costs. The overburden ratio has dropped somewhat since 2014.

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Destatis considers households to be overburdened if they spend more than 40 percent of their disposable income on housing costs – which includes both rents and mortgages. 

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HOUSING

INTERVIEW: International students ‘vulnerable’ to Swedish housing shortages

People moving to Malmö to study now have to wait as long as a year to receive accommodation, Milena Milosavljević, the president of the Student Union in the city, has told The Local. The situation, she says, is "urgent and acute".

INTERVIEW: International students 'vulnerable' to Swedish housing shortages

The Sofa Project, run by the Student Union Malmö, received 80 applications this year from students who wanted to rent short-term accommodation, showing just how acute the current housing shortage is.

These 80 applicants were vying for one of seven spots, ranging from a spare room to a sofa bed – from hosts who sign up to offer their spaces to new arrivals.  As the programme only had seven hosts registered this year, the project had to close its application page to others, otherwise the number would have surpassed 80.

“They are ready to come to Malmö and sleep on a sofa bed at a stranger’s house before they find accommodation,” Milosavljević told The Local. 

Malmö recently received a red designation from the Swedish National Union of Students, which publishes an annual report assessing the housing situation in university towns and cities across Sweden. A red designation means that finding suitable accommodation as a student takes more than one semester. The report found that 61 percent of students live in a city that has been designated a red ranking.

READ ALSO: Sweden’s student union warns that housing shortages are back this semester

“The reality of Malmö and the reason why it became red is that to find suitable accommodation you have to wait up to a year,” Milosavljević said.

Some individuals, she said might have to wait up to three years to find their own accommodation, making do with second-hand contracts, long commutes, and living with family members in the meantime. For newly-arrived international students, who lack personal numbers when they move here and so cannot join Swedish housing queues, looking for suitable housing becomes a complex task.

“International students are more vulnerable because they don’t have a personal number to enter the system before they come to Sweden,” Milosavljević explained.

Milosavljević herself moved to Malmö as an international, fee-paying student. Because she paid tuition, she was offered housing by Malmö University. Based in part on her own experience, Milosavljević explained that the housing issue cannot be reduced to a shortage in the number of flats and rooms. There is also a shortage of appropriate housing options for different needs.

“They offered me accommodation in a student building,” she said. “Not an apartment, but a room – and I came with my husband. The room was not enough for two of us.”

Student accommodation must accommodate the different needs of different members of the student body, Milosavljević said, including those who move with partners or spouses, or even with their children.

In the past year, one new student apartment building was built in Malmö, with 94 new spaces for the city’s student body. This is inadequate, Milosavljević said. While Malmö is growing, and there is residential construction being carried out around the city, it is unclear how many of those new buildings will prioritise the city’s student population.

The city’s student population, too, is growing. As the pandemic era ended in Sweden, students returned to campus. And new students joined them. While student ranks grew, housing options remained stagnant.

“From our perspective from the Student Union, we have talked about, in the previous years, how the situation after the pandemic is going to get even worse for the students,” Milosavljević said. “There’s an increase of students coming back, new students, and already not even enough housing.”

Milosavljević has fielded calls and emails from students who say that they cannot move to Malmö because they cannot find housing.

“They are already working on it,” Milosavljević told The Local of the university’s response.

There are plans to create more housing for international students, but these proposals focus mainly on students from European Union, leaving other international students out. All international students should be given priority for student accommodation, Milosavljević said, because none of them have access to the Swedish housing market.

“I do believe strongly that the City of Malmö and Malmö University need to have urgent negotiations and start building straight away,” she said.

Because Malmö University is a public university, it must follow the lead of the Ministry of Education and Research. Milosavljević acknowledged that in the aftermath of Sweden’s recent elections, which put the right-bloc in power, student housing shortages might not rank highly on a list of national priorities.

“The Student Union Malmö considers this situation quite urgent and acute,” Milosavljević said. “We are more than prepared to sit down and talk so we can actually do something, instead of just having meetings. The students will continue to suffer if the living conditions and the bostad [housing] situation in Malmö is not improved.”

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