Thursday, June 9, 2016

Affordable Housing Essay

I often mention the lack of affordable housing in Germany.  This is one of those essays where I drill down into the topic.

If you lined up a dozen Germans in some urban zone pub and really got the "what's your top ten issues" going....eventually at least half would agree that affordable housing in urban areas is pretty screwed up.  The same dozen, from some rural town in the midst of Bavaria, with 600 residents in the village....would rate this problem as number 833 on their list of issues.

Political folks like the issue because it's easy to chat about and they can attend forums and note they are all for creating more affordable housing.  The just doesn't happen that easily....especially if you live in some city like Frankfurt or Koln.

Naturally, an American would ask why.

The first issue is that cities have a lot of neighborhood groups focused on green areas and getting some new unused property blessed for large apartment projects....takes a lot of energy and dedication.  Once you start this could take a year or two....before the property is blessed for such a project. Added to this thrilling the environmental issues.  Some city councils will demand that the project must be "green" enhanced....meaning gardens, landscape, and playgrounds.  All of this kind of stuff means that you need twice the amount of land space as the original intent required.

From today's news in Focus....I noticed that the Housing Ministry in Germany had their chief (an SPD member) to comment on trying to kindle the flame for more housing.

Frau Hendricks (the minister in question) noted that the current trend is mostly around single people (not families) highly urbanized areas.  So she wants to create projects where parking isn't required, and apartments are built to around 30 square meters (roughly 322 square feet for Americans).

Most people would scratch their head over 322 square feet.  It's basically a studio apartment with a corner kitchen, some sofa, a small desk built into the wall, a twin bed, and a bathroom that you can barely walk into.

The idea behind this push is that such projects would cost less money and be very affordable.  My guess is that you could rent (at least in the Wiesbaden area) something like this for 350 to 450 Euro ($425 to $530 roughly).  In Frankfurt, maybe more.

What Hendricks gets around to.....which is absolutely today's world of construction projects for affordable housing...if you count everything involved, there are around 20,000 standards in the construction sector.  Twenty years would have been just 5000 standards.

What happens if the 30 square meter idea took off?  Well, it would invite social change.  Imagine yourself as some 28-year-old guy and you actively dated, and one day bumped into some gal who took your breathe away.  But then reality hit.....both of you have such a 30 square meter place, and the idea of sharing or living in one place?  Non-existent.  So you arranged a relationship, and for the next twenty-odd years.....did the single business and avoided a marriage until you were both into your late forties.  No kids, just a social arrangement because of the newly created housing solution.

In a way, it's a solution that works but it's obviously creating other problems down the line.

Why not just build larger apartment complexes, each with 80 square meters each?  The guys who have the investment capital.....want a real return....something that they can touch and feel in four years as each condo is sold.

About 10 kilometers from my village....further out from Wiesbaden, is the town of Idstein.  Idstein has a population of 23,000, and it's laid out against an entire valley, with the autobahn on one side, and a train-line which runs through the side of the valley.  Oddly, their city council had no problem with approving construction, and they've been on this construction 'binge' for a decade at least.  In five years, they will probably add another 5,000 residents to the town (these are mostly larger sized reihenhauses which sell to families).  The town has all the comforts of a bigger town, but well-suited for a town of 23,000 (theater, hardware store, at least six groceries, a train station, and a golf course near by).

At some point, I expect bigger cities to give up on the idea of building more housing because of all the hassle, and folks will realize that it's more practical to live 20 to 40 kilometers away from work, in a smaller town with railway access.

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