Germany’s apartment vacancy rate has seen its biggest decline in more than 20 years, falling to just 2.5 percent nationwide at the end of 2022, and migration is being fingered as one of the primary causes behind the crisis. The low vacancy rate is driving rents higher, and putting pressure on households as they struggle under elevated inflation and a weakened economy.
The data, published Monday by consulting institute Empirica and the real estate specialist CBRE, shows that the “market-active vacancy rate,” apartments that can be rented out immediately or offered for rent over the medium term, fell 2.5 percent to about 554,000 residential units at the end of 2022, a drop of 53,000 units compared to 2021.
The decline is actually quite significant and, according to Empirica CEO Reiner Braun, is the biggest decline since 2020.
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“The (drop) in vacancies in 2022 was characterized by the immigration of around 1 million people from Ukraine,” he said.
However, the situation is only expected to grow worse up until 2025, as high interest rates and a collapse in apartment construction are expected to keep the market tight, which means more rent increases and more shortages.
In some cities, the vacancy rate is astoundingly low. For example, Munich is at only 0.1 percent, while Frankfurt, Freiburg, and Münster are all at 0.2 percent. Rents, in turn, are also sky-high in all four cities.
Remix News has extensively covered the real estate crisis in Germany in the past, noting that the country’s elevated housing and rental prices were greatly tied to mass immigration. While Ukrainian refugees may have contributed to the greatest increase in rental prices in 2022, mass immigration from the Middle East, Asia, and Africa has contributed to a housing affordability crisis for years, a development seen throughout the Western world.
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As German newspaper Die Welt wrote earlier this year, the core problem for Germany’s housing crisis is not necessarily that over 1.3 million people entered Germany in 2022, with the lion’s share being refugees from Ukraine, but that all the previous waves of refugees refuse to return home.
“It would be no problem at all if large groups of refugees from past wars or persecutions, and even more so, rejected asylum seekers or criminals, were to continuously return home,” writes Die Welt. “However, a web of legal claims makes it difficult to set up any sustainable organization of immigration. Once a person has been recognized, he or she usually receives an enforceable claim to permanent residence after only three to five years. The traffic light government even wants naturalization after this short period. In addition, the majority of rejected asylum seekers remain.”
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Christian Engelhardt, the district administrator of Bergstrasse County in Hesse, said that housing is growing perilous: “Even citizens who want to move to our county because of a well-paying job can hardly find affordable housing. Because of the shortage, some of the refugees assigned to us since 2015 still haven’t come out of the collective accommodations.”
Last year, he said another 4,000 people were added to his municipality, saying, “That’s more than the inhabitants of our smallest municipality in the district.”
The cost of housing migrants is also putting extreme pressure on Germany’s federal and state budgets. In Berlin alone, just 12 migrant accommodation centers are costing the state over half a billion a year, according to data released by the Berlin state parliament after a request from the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party.
Germany’s population hit a record high of 84 million in 2022, but if immigration was cut overnight, the country’s population would actually fall, helping increase housing affordability and reducing the debt burden of migrants, which will cost Germany €36 billion in 2023 alone.
Those apartments that are vacant are now often being seized by the German government to house migrants.
“We are confiscating apartments. We are at the end of our capacity there,” said CDU’s state secretary of North Rhine-Westphalia Paul Ziemiak earlier this year.