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"Otherwise Ms. Geywitz will explain every year that she has missed her target"


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"Otherwise Ms. Geywitz will explain every year that she has missed her target"

WORLD: Ms. Scharrenbach, affordable housing has long since become a social issue in our society. Despite this, little happens. What is politics doing wrong?

Ina Scharrenbach: Quite a lot has happened in recent years. New rent-controlled apartments are publicly subsidised, and privately financed construction is also being carried out. It has to be said that the increased demands on residential construction are also leading to higher rents.

WORLD: Even Federal Building Minister Klara Geywitz (SPD) admits that not enough living space is being created. She recently said that the goal of creating 400,000 apartments a year will not be reached in 2022 either. NRW does not meet its own target of 51,000 either.

Scharrenbach: Right. Honest politics also means saying things as they are and not throwing dust in people's eyes. Incidentally, the federal government's goal of creating 400,000 new homes every year is completely illusory. That will not be achievable in the long term.

The federal government would do well to set realistic goals, otherwise Ms. Geywitz will say every year that she has missed it. Ambitious goals are good, but they must be achievable.

The opposition here in North Rhine-Westphalia is demanding 100,000 apartments, but according to an expert report, 51,000 apartments will be needed every year until 2025 and thereafter an average of 46,000 apartments per year. We have also achieved this in the past two years.

WORLD: Why is it not working with 51,000 new apartments in NRW this year?

Scharrenbach: Increasing building prices, bottlenecks in building materials and trades, rising interest rates, high inflation, unclear federal policy guidelines for promoting energy efficiency in buildings: almost everything is hitting the housing market at the moment. Of course, construction projects in North Rhine-Westphalia are also suffering as a result. Above all, the enemy of investments is uncertainty. The federal government has further increased this uncertainty by reducing the subsidy for energy-efficient houses.

The result is a lack of planning security. Since the beginning of the year, many construction projects in NRW have therefore been postponed and renovations not started. There is a lack of clarity about the energy requirements for buildings. We have enough people in NRW who want to build. No project in NRW fails due to public housing subsidies, most recently 1.3 billion euros a year.

WORLD: Is it becoming more and more difficult to create new living space?

Scharrenbach: North Rhine-Westphalia is very heterogeneous. We have high demand on the metropolitan Rhine-Ruhr line, Düsseldorf, Cologne, Bonn, but also in Münster, while there are far more offers and options in rural regions, in Ostwestfalen-Lippe or in Südwestfalen. Cities are finite in area, and there are also growing demands for fresh air corridors and greenery. It's about reconciling sustainability and densification.

There are still plots of land, but the real estate business is long-term. We started the Bauland-Bahn initiative, where we identify locations for settlements at rail stops within a radius of 3000 meters. There are many possibilities, especially in the cities around the popular cities. We want to bring living closer to the rails in order to also support a switch in transport.

WORLD: The duration of planning and approvals is a general problem. How can the federal and state governments achieve significant changes?

Scharrenbach: The municipalities have to meet the requirements of the federal government. A lot has happened in recent years that needs to be considered as part of the planning process. More and more reports are being added, and that's a big mistake. With the expansion of renewable energies, the federal government has decided that it is a matter of paramount public interest. Housing construction, flood protection or other infrastructure issues are not given such priority.

The European Central Bank wants to raise interest rates by 0.25 percentage points, the banks are already ahead and are taking around three percent. These rate hikes are expected to weaken economic growth in Germany. We explain here what this means in concrete terms for house builders and savers.

Source: WELT / Sebastian Plantholt

WORLD: Should housing construction also have a legal priority?

Scharrenbach: The task of the state is to ensure the basic needs of the population, and that includes housing because it is a social service of general interest. The federal government should therefore make the process much easier. The states and municipalities simply need more freedom. The number of expert opinions required is too high and this makes it very expensive.

The length of the process participation is now very challenging. And anyone can intervene against planning projects. Many try to put their individual interests ahead of the general good, including through the courts. This makes construction projects extremely difficult.

WORLD: In addition to the hurdles you mentioned, there is now the energy crisis. What does this mean for housing policy?

Scharrenbach: In January, the federal government canceled funding for energy-efficient houses. Since then we have seen real estate investors retreat because the plans are no longer economically viable. Building rates are rising. The costs, especially for the ancillary rental costs, are increasing due to energy prices. You can't demand a barrier-free apartment with a high energy standard for five euros per square meter and at the same time reduce the subsidy.

WORLD: Municipalities are having trouble accommodating more and more refugees and migrants. How can the federal government intervene to regulate this?

Scharrenbach: The federal government has set out to reach an agreement at European level on how to deal with immigration from third countries. You have to find regulations with the neighboring countries that people cannot simply travel through to Germany.

WORLD: Germany does not seem to be better prepared, despite the experience of the 2015/2016 refugee crisis. Or is the impression deceptive?

Scharrenbach: No, the impression is not deceptive. The EU has launched the mass influx directive for war refugees from Ukraine, and it would be the task of the Federal Ministry of the Interior to take care of the distribution of the people.

WORLD: Is there additional competition in the tight housing market?

Scharrenbach: Many refugees from the Ukraine found private accommodation in NRW. In addition, shortly after the beginning of the war, we launched a housing offensive for those seeking protection in order to take a targeted look at vacant apartments with grants and low-interest loans with increased repayment discounts and to mobilize them for housing purposes again or to build new apartments.

The housing offensive thus benefits everyone in North Rhine-Westphalia. However, some municipalities are already saying that capacities are getting tight, very tight.

"Kick-off Politics" is WELT's daily news podcast. The most important topic analyzed by WELT editors and the dates of the day. Subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music or directly via RSS feed.

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