Housing market in Bonn: Take what you can get

Housing market in Bonn : Take what you can get

High rents and a tight market make it difficult to find an apartment in Bonn. Often there is also racism and discrimination. It is especially problematic for young families to find affordable housing.

Sarah Schneider and Tim Meier wanted to live in the Cologne Südstadt (the south of Cologne). In the end, it was Beuel. "Because what you got for your money didn’t make sense," says Schneider. The young couple knows how difficult it has become to find housing in cities. The Bonn market has become so tight that ordinary earners have little chance of finding affordable housing. The two were lucky because they came across a renovated old building through acquaintances of theirs. Up until then, they had been looking for a half year; experiencing mass apartment showings and racism.

On average, Bonn residents spend about one third of their income on rent (without utilities), as discovered in a study by the Hans Böckler Foundation. Those living in the city pay 8.74 euros per square meter - only Munich, Frankfurt, Hamburg and Stuttgart are more expensive. At the same time, there is a lack of state-subsidized housing. At present, there are only around 10,000 subsidized units in Bonn, which is around seven percent of the total apartments available. About 3,000 people are on the waiting list for a publicly subsidized apartment where rents remain manageable.

Tenants make more compromises

"The current situation puts tenants under pressure," says Heike Keilhofer of the German Tenants' Association. More and more concessions are made to find an apartment at all. This ranges from a poorer location to having to purchase the kitchen already in the apartment to higher rents or one-time payments - for those who can afford it. Landlords have lots of leeway since housing is so tight.

Sarah Schneider and Tim Meier described their experience like this, "When we looked in Cologne, everything was always gone when we called. In Bonn we got at least one invitation (for a viewing)," says Schneider. In the apartment showings they went to, sometimes five new interested parties were shepherded through the rooms every twenty minutes. "In the entrance was a paper where you could write down your personal details." Landlords wanted to know their exact income and also personal details. And one never knew the chances of getting the apartment because there were so many interested parties.

The couple learned to take advantage of the fact that Meier was a police officer. Landlords like to rent to police officers. Meier said it was also helpful to write a personal message instead of just filling out the standard form. When he looked for someone to take over his apartment lease, he said his mailbox filled up quickly, with 200 mails a day being not uncommon.

The couple now pay around 1,100 euros for an apartment with 90 square meters. They have a yard and it takes them only five minutes to get to the Rhine or the train station. The price is above the Bonn Rent Index, which is meant to prevent rents from rising arbitrarily. In practice, however, real estate expert Rolf L. Becker says, “In fact, rents in Bonn are often above the rent index." Because of the tight market, renters are prepared to pay more. Prices depend on the location and the condition of the housing.

Single parents not wanted

Lisa Wörner, 20-years-old, is a young mother looking for an apartment. She has scoured the internet, made more than 300 calls to landlords and send out more than 200 e-mails. Again and again, she was told that children were not wanted. When she said she was receiving money from the Job Center, she was told directly that such people were not wanted. For a subsidized apartment, the wait would be three years since she was not registered in Bonn already.

While it is difficult to confirm subjective feelings on the matter, a study from University of Applied Sciences and Environment Nürtingen-Geislingen found that single parents are least desirable when it comes to the preferences of landlords. This is followed by young couples and families with children. Groups that are more desirable include civil servants, employed workers and craftsmen.

Felix von Grünberg, who offers regular office hours for the Mieterbund (tenants' association), knows many such cases. Those who do not fit into the box are demoted to second-class people. Tim Meier and Sarah Schneider heard from one landlord that they "like to read these German names". Racism in the housing search is not rare, those with a foreign-sounding name get rejected more frequently. Grünberg says that discrimination is punishable, and tenants should fight against it. "It’s not that everyone who has money is necessarily a tolerable tenant and neighbor."

Young families feel pushed out of the city

But even young families with dual earners find themselves in a fix. In the Südstadt (the south of Bonn), there are slips of paper hanging on street lanterns, with people searching for housing. "For two years now we have not found anything, and feel pushed out of the city," says a young woman. Together with husband and child, they live in a top floor apartment in need of renovation. What is missing are "normal apartments for ordinary citizens" - somewhere in the middle between cheap and luxury living space.

Due to the rising rental and purchase prices of real estate, there is another consequence that the tenants' association in Bonn is observing more frequently: the "lock-in" effect. He describes that people do not move because they can not afford it - so the market becomes sluggish. It may be the case of a young family needing a larger apartment but not moving, because the price per square meter would be higher than in the current living situation. Orig. text: Nicolas Ottersbach Translation: Carol Kloeppel

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