Researchers see “polarization”: rental costs are a heavy burden on city dwellers

Researchers see “polarization”
Rental costs place a heavy burden on city dwellers

Affordable living space is scarce in large cities like Berlin, Hamburg and Munich. Researchers at the Humboldt University are now quantifying how many people have to shell out a particularly large amount of their net income for their rent. You advocate a multi-pronged approach to improve the situation.

According to a study, many households in large cities have to raise so much money when it comes to rent that they are above the 30 percent mark of net income. As the study published by the Hans Böckler Foundation shows, 49.2 percent of the around 8.4 million households that rent in Germany’s major cities are above this threshold in order to pay their gross rent.

This corresponds to more than 4.1 million households in which around 6.5 million people live. According to the union-affiliated foundation, any social transfers and housing benefits have already been taken into account. “For social scientists as well as real estate experts, a rent burden rate above 30 percent of household income is problematic, especially for households with lower incomes, because then there is only relatively little money left for the rest of life,” explained the foundation.

Many landlords would also draw a line here because they doubted that tenants with less income would be able to afford their apartment in the long term. A good quarter (25.9 percent) of households in the 77 German cities have to spend at least 40 percent of their income on rent including heating and ancillary costs – this corresponds to almost 2.2 million households with around 3.1 million residents; just under twelve percent or almost a million households even have to raise more than half of their income.

For the study, a research team led by urban sociologist Andrej Holm from Berlin’s Humboldt University evaluated the latest available data from the microcensus. The study therefore also provides detailed figures for 2018 for every single major city in the Federal Republic.

Construction activity only helps to a limited extent

As a result, in recent years, even among city dwellers, incomes have risen faster than housing costs on average. However, there were great social differences: the burden in households on the poverty line, which have a maximum income of 60 percent of the median, was around 46 percent. Median means that 50 percent are above and 50 percent below. In contrast, tenant households with a high income of more than 140 percent of the median only have to spend an average of just under 20 percent on rent including heating, according to the study.

The authors therefore see a further “polarization” of the housing situation. A comparison over time from 2006 to 2018 also shows that “the social inequalities in the area of ​​housing have worsened and high rental costs have solidified”. The housing shortage in large cities has been “at most slightly alleviated” despite increased building activity.

Holm advocated a multi-pronged approach to improve the situation. In addition to instruments to protect existing rents, among other things, social and non-profit housing should be “significantly strengthened with the most permanent rental agreements possible,” he advised. Even assuming an optimal distribution of the available living space, 1.5 million households could not be supplied with affordable and adequate housing. This “hard core” of the housing shortage affects over 18 percent of all tenant households in large cities. The supply of apartments that cost more than 15 euros gross per square meter, however, has increased significantly by more than 535,000 since 2006.

Another crucial key to social housing provision, however, is the income situation of the tenants. Without effective measures to dissolve the widespread low-wage sector, social housing cannot be guaranteed in large cities, according to Holm.

Overload rate decreased slightly

According to the study, overload due to high rents is not limited to certain types of cities. Thus, among the cities with the highest load quota for warm rents in relation to income, there are comparatively wealthy and “expensive” cities such as Düsseldorf, Wiesbaden or Darmstadt as well as the economically rather weak Bremerhaven, Recklinghausen or Mönchengladbach. There the rents are lower, but also the incomes.

The Federal Statistical Office had also analyzed the burden on households with housing costs. According to his data, in 2019 almost 14 percent of the population (around 11.4 million people) lived in households that were financially overburdened by high housing costs. The authority sees an overload of housing costs when a household spends more than 40 percent of the available income on housing – regardless of whether the person concerned is renting or living in their own four walls and paying off a loan, for example. According to Destatis, the overload rate has decreased slightly since 2014.