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187 measures against Germany's housing shortage

In a few areas of the economy, desire and reality are currently so far apart as in construction.

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187 measures against Germany's housing shortage

In a few areas of the economy, desire and reality are currently so far apart as in construction. The federal government, for example, wants 400,000 new apartments to be built every year. In fact, according to a survey by the Ifo Institute, almost 17 percent of the companies surveyed canceled their construction projects in September, making the goal almost impossible to achieve.

In addition, the cheapest possible rental apartments are desired. But the construction costs in August were around 17 percent higher than in the summer of the previous year. 100,000 social housing units are to be built every year, but in fact the number is falling year after year because many are no longer subject to price maintenance.

The government wants to take countermeasures with an “alliance for affordable housing”. Business, trade unions and politicians have met regularly in recent months and have now signed a paper with a total of 187 measures, some of which are to be processed in the coming year and some in the rest of the government period.

The alliance includes representatives of the federal states, municipalities, the housing and construction industry, social associations, environmental associations, trade unions, churches and civil society organizations. Construction Minister Klara Geywitz (SPD) explained that it is important to make the processes more effective and to provide planning security through reliable funding.

The federal government does not want to lose sight of the 400,000 apartments. "We are sticking to the goal, that has to be said explicitly," said Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the presentation of the paper.

The housing alliance has created a patchwork of many individual points, from simplifications in municipal building planning to regulations on the use of building materials and cost control for individual building standards. On closer inspection, however, many things do not become simpler, but more complicated. And more expensive. The Ministry of Building will initially only have one billion euros available for new construction funding from 2023.

What should be of most interest to private builders: From January 2025, the KfW efficiency house standard 40 will be required for new buildings. This ambitious environmental standard can only be achieved in single-family homes with elaborate insulation and sophisticated systems with heat pumps, ventilation and heat recovery, controlled by intelligent software.

It is obvious that such a standard costs money, especially when there are delivery bottlenecks, high material costs and a lack of construction specialists. But the new building standard, which also emerges from the approved paper, is not even being specially funded - unlike in the past, when there was even money for the less strict KfW 55 standard. Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) stopped its funding abruptly in January.

In the future, there will only be extra money from the state for the “fulfillment of supra-legal building standards” – i.e. for buildings that are even more ecological than KfW-40. However, ambitious builders will only achieve this by using special materials.

Because "in the medium to long-term perspective, the building products used must consist primarily of reused, recycled or renewable materials and raw materials," says the paper. In other words: wood, clay, regional raw materials, recyclable or already recycled concrete. Plus points and thus a subsidy are only available for material that is as CO₂-neutral as possible with regard to the entire "life cycle".

So it won't be cheaper. But more complicated. The entry into "climate-neutral construction" is also to be achieved by determining and cataloging the greenhouse gas emissions of individual construction products or processes.

Each component is entered into a database over the long term, and a "digital building resource pass" for new buildings is being developed at the same time. The goal is to make buildings more or less recyclable in the future.

The federal government is not taking a special route, but is in principle following an EU directive on the overall energy efficiency of buildings (EPBD). However, there will be no special new building subsidies to stimulate the new generation of eco-construction. The only thing that emerges from the paper now available is that the federal government is planning new KfW loans to promote property "to promote the acquisition of property for first-time buyers with middle incomes from threshold households."

If they wish, the federal states could also use the "possibility for a more flexible structure of the real estate transfer tax", for example through tax exemptions for the first purchase of residential property. In recent years, however, the willingness of the federal states to do so has been low, in view of, for example, chronically overburdened budgets due to pension payments.

In order to boost new construction at all, building and approval regulations are to be simplified, and apartments should be allowed to be built more densely, higher and in noisier areas than before. At some point there will be a digital planning application. Particularly fast approvals are planned for modular and serial construction.

The intentions are good, but the contradictions are numerous: If there are new building standards, they should first be checked for cost effects. However, none of the many thousands of regulations are explicitly intended to be deleted.

The alliance also wants to reward "low-tech", i.e. technically simple solutions, but makes highly complex heat recovery a requirement. Municipalities should seal fewer areas on the outskirts of the city, but because of climate change, they also want to keep as many green spaces as possible in the city center.

The federal states will probably keep their own building codes, and municipalities will only get a “self-commitment to shorten the deadlines for the timely implementation of public planning and approval procedures in practice.” It doesn’t look like hard cuts.

As expected, the criticism in the CDU was fierce: "The composition and distribution of tasks in the alliance were ideological and overloaded from the start," says CDU construction expert Jan-Marco Luczak. "This birth defect has made purposeful and constructive discussions difficult."

According to Luczak, the right thing would have been “to radically streamline building regulations, to digitize and accelerate approval processes and to provide investment security with a reliable and adequate funding system. To do this, the Ministry of the Environment would also have to refrain from exaggerated requirements, the Ministry of Economics would have to support new construction and not just renovation, and the Ministry of Finance would have to increase funds for construction in the budget.

The participants themselves are not entirely happy with the alliance's results either. "The government is sticking to the one-sided focus on ever higher and more expensive energy efficiency standards," said Axel Gedaschko, President of the Federal Association of Real Estate and Housing Companies GdW. The goal of 400,000 new apartments per year is "unattainable in the foreseeable future".

Criticism of the plans also came from the left: "Tenant protection is a blank. No rent freeze, no start for social housing, ”explained the left-wing politician Caren Ley. "The political unwillingness to fundamentally tackle the rent crisis and housing shortage is no longer concealed by escalating and fruitless alliances."

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