Feeling comfortable and safe at home is feeling at home
Good, safe and affordable living space within a comfortable environment and functioning infrastructure is a decisive factor for quality of life. The following interview is held with Axel Gedaschko, President of GdW Bundesverband deutscher Wohnungs- und Immobilienunternehmen e. V. (Federal Association of German Housing and Real Estate Companies).
Thomas Müller (P@L): What is a well-built and safe living environment worth today?
Axel Gedaschko (GdW): Probably living in a safe and comfortable flat was hardly ever more valuable than today because it represents protection, privacy and security. Especially in the present time of crisis, people need a home where they feel safe and comfortable without the fear of losing it. While the demands on housing constantly grow, the basic need for security in an environment worth living in will remain as valuable as it has been in the past.
However, when it comes to living in a comfortable and safe environment, the neighbourhood as such is also an important aspect. Living is by no means excluded from the trends of our time, as is the case with the digitisation of more and more areas of life. On the one hand, this offers new opportunities for all generations, but it also presents new challenges. Thus, the current meaning of "safe living" must be redefined. Issues such as digitisation, data protection and transformation must be included, because they are part of our reality. Climate protection in particular has an immense impact and requires change also in the housing business.
Currently we have to face the immense challenge of managing climate change, coping with the socio-economic impact of the Corona pandemic and strengthening social balance. For climate change mitigation, Germany and the European Union have set themselves the ambitious goal of becoming a climate-neutral society by 2050. The energy savings required for this are to be achieved, among other things, through a European renovation wave, which is intended to double or even triple the renovation rates of buildings in the EU. But to be able to do so, one thing must be clear: More climate protection in housing must not be tantamount to rent increases or even displacement from the traditional home. In order to prevent this, the implementation of the European Green Deal and the EU wave of renovations must be designed in such a way that tenants benefit from savings in energy costs when they carry out energy-related renovations and that landlords receive grants free of charge in order to be able to cope with the immense investment costs.
Housing associations must not be left alone with the conflict between affordable rents and climate protection targets. Overall, the implementation of the energy system transformation is a task for society as a whole and must not be at the expense of tenants or housing associations. Everyone must work together to achieve the climate targets, while at the same time taking into account the relevant performance capabilities.
P@L: According to a study, the Viennese rental system is not suitable for Germany. In other words, the "Viennese model", which appears to be successful on site, is not a suitable model for the German housing market. Please tell us why!
Axel Gedaschko: "The aforementioned study impressively proves that superficial comparisons of supposed average rents and frequently quoted individual examples of paradisiacal rental conditions have so far created a frequently distorted perception of the Viennese residential reality.
When taking a closer look, however, the real situation becomes apparent: For example, the incidental rental expenses in Vienna are considerably higher than the associated rent costs in Germany. In addition, the new contractual rents for two flats of identical quality and location can be completely different, and the existing rents all the more. The term "average new-contract rent", for example, is sometimes based on completely different measurement concepts. Furthermore, housing policy expenditure in Vienna is significantly higher than in German metropolitan areas, and funds are concentrated on property promotion. The city of Vienna, for example, spends slightly more than twice as much per inhabitant on new building promotion in comparison to Berlin. On the other hand, the subsidisation of property is extremely low, which penalises low-income families.
The conclusion of the analysis: The "Vienna Model" is expensive, uncertain, controversial, bureaucratic, non-transparent and unfair, especially from the perspective of socially disadvantaged tenants, and all this despite the fact that housing costs in Vienna are not cheaper than in German metropolitan areas.
Thus, the Viennese rental system is not transferable one to one to Germany, in particular due to its high complexity. This shows once again that instead of simple answers, such as the imitation of a supposedly successful model, we need a separate, finely tuned strategy for the German housing markets. The housing and property industry has called for effective measures, but implementation is lacking. This is where the Federal Government, the Länder and the local authorities urgently need to work together. One very important aspect to be able to do so is an active land policy. In this context, German municipalities can learn a lot from Vienna, as the study shows.
P@L: There are repeated complaints that housing associations are making less and less budget available for outdoor spaces. Thus, there is increasingly less space available. Can you tell us why?
Axel Gedaschko: That is not at all the case. On the contrary, German housing companies are increasingly investing in sustainable, liveable quarters with attractive outdoor spaces. In many cities and communities, more and more municipal services of general interest are provided, and not just that. As far as the areas of new residential neighbourhoods are concerned, however, we have an ongoing and increasing problem: building land has become extremely expensive and prices are still rocketing. If municipal land is available for housing construction, the few available areas are often being sold at the highest price bid. This situation must be improved. Plots of land must be allocated according to the best housing construction concept.
Overall, too little has been built in Germany in recent years and construction has been too expensive. It is the ever-increasing flood of norms and standards which has caused spectacular construction costs. In addition, there is a lack of land in many places. Thus, now is the time to focus the promising parameters which could help to improve the housing market. The solution to this problem is long well known: First and foremost, the Planning and Construction Acceleration Act must be passed as soon as possible. We need permanent tax improvements for housing construction. The housing industry needs an active and future-oriented real estate and land policy for the cities and municipalities. Inter-municipal solutions and cooperation between cities and the surrounding areas could be a valuable approach. As a matter of principle, local authorities must hand over plots of land according to the concept awarding principle and not according to maximum prices. The approval capacities in the offices must be increased and the results of the building cost reduction commission from the last legislative period should be implemented. Local authorities, Länder and the Federal Government must now join forces. Only if the measures are jointly implemented, building can be continued quickly to make more living space available. And this will also have a positive effect on outdoor spaces.
P@L: The so-called "Socially Integrative City" programme has been very effective since its introduction in 1999. A total of around 780 measures have been funded. The programme has thus made a major contribution to the social stabilisation and positive development of residential areas and neighbourhoods in the cities. Why is this programme so successful?
Axel Gedaschko: Liveable urban districts are the basis for social cohesion and integration. In our socially oriented society, the aim is to support people living together in their neighbourhoods and to improve their perspectives. The strength of the Socially Integrative City programme is formulated in the GdW study "Overstrained Neighbourhoods": Neighbourhood development requires networking, patience and creativity, and in the end, it is not speed but sustainability which counts. Linking investment measures with non-investment support for social projects, i.e. investment in people, is what makes the social city special. The Socially Integrative City programme links both construction work and social measures in order to promote integration and create neighbourhoods worth living in. In this way it has been possible to continually develop and improve residential areas in Germany within the past 20 years.
P@L: The 2019 Social City Award goes to Bremerhaven. The project 'Gegen den Strom - Soziale Stadt Wulsdorf' ("Against the Flow - The Social City of Wulsdorf") of the municipal housing company STÄWOG from Bremerhaven has won the renowned Socially Integrative City prize. What are the reasons?
Axel Gedaschko: "The winning project 'Against the Current - Social City of Wulsdorf' represents the great social commitment shown by numerous actors in many districts throughout Germany. STÄWOG has been addressing the architectural and social grievances in the Wulsdorf-Ringstraße housing estate since 1999. Instead of the frequently demanded complete demolition, they focused on partial deconstruction, new construction and innovative further development of the buildings - an approach which both protected and preserved the building fabric as well as the existing social structures. The now significantly higher quality of architecture and living environment creates identity in a positive sense. While in the past this quarter was a social hotspot of the region, today the residents are proud to live here, the fact of which has also positive effects on the adjacent surroundings.
With this project, the company has been able to demonstrate comprehensive and long-term planning in terms of social development of a residential area. It is also clear that successful urban development can only be achieved in cooperation with local actors, the municipalities and with the participation of the tenants.
P@L: New forms of housing for young families. Services for senior citizens. Living and working together. Good offers increase demand. What offers and what concepts does the GdW have?
Axel Gedaschko: The social change has a major influence on the development of housing trends in Germany. The focus is on demographic development as well as digitisation and innovative forms of living. Digital citizens need digital services. The product living as such has to be adapted to the modern age, including careful pricing and a reorganisation of communication channels with tenants.
Our member companies offer a variety of innovative concepts for new forms of housing. These range from flat-rate housing and staff housing to new mobility concepts for entire districts. But there is also a growing demand for low-barrier and thus generation-appropriate construction as well as for flats equipped with "smart home" or so-called "ambient assisted living" models. Such concepts and technical assistance and smart home systems enable senior citizens or physically handicapped people to remain safe, comfortable and independent in their familiar surroundings and homes. Surveys show that people in old age want to remain self-determined in their familiar living environment. The quality of life in old age mainly depends on the infrastructure, local social networks and the living situation. However, all these measures must indeed remain affordable. No less important is the link to the urban district - for example through close cooperation with social and care services and a local supply infrastructure.
A lot of housing companies have already been using technical assistance systems and smart home applications for around 10 years to give tenants more independence and better living comfort in their homes. The companies are pioneers in the sector. For the housing and real estate industry, Smart Home or Smart Living is an important component of the overall topic of digitisation. We want to further improve the processes of dwelling services, management of resources and tenant communication through digitisation. This is because the GdW study "Wohntrends (living trends) 2035" clearly shows that digital living is playing an increasingly important role - also regarding senior-friendly housing. Digital living does not stop at the flat or front door, but continues with smart living in the neighbourhood and the smart city concept.
Another topic is the so-called "staff-housing", a new approach which is becoming increasingly important. From an economic point of view, affordable living is a frequently underestimated location factor. However, the fact is that in times of increasing housing shortage and lack of specialists, companies will have to think more about future personnel concepts which include both working and accommodation aspects. The association "Wirtschaft macht Wohnen" is thus intensively committed to staff housing concepts. In this context they currently provide a new study including numerous clear practical examples as well as a guide on how companies can effectively use the staff housing model as an instrument of active personnel policy.
But our member companies are also very active in the field of mobility. The Association of Saxon Housing Cooperatives (VSWG), for example, has launched the project "shuttle in the neighbourhood with assistance services for senior citizens", SHIQ for short, together with the FI Freiberg Institut für vernetzte Energieautarkie (institute for networked energy self-sufficiency) and other partners. The aim of the project is to establish an e-shuttle in the neighbourhood of the housing association called "Glück auf" Ehrenfriedersdorf and to combine social assistance services provided by the shuttle driver including on-demand mobility which can be routed up to the front door. Through the individual consideration of user-dependent stopping times a high level of punctuality should be achieved. In addition, the shuttle service also creates incentives for a change in mobility behaviour and helps rural areas to become more attractive places to live at.
P@L: According to various studies it has been proven that obesity increases the risk of serious illness and the risk of dying from Corona infection which underlines the importance of open play and fitness areas, especially against the background of the Corona crisis. Particularly in times when people have to do without sports and leisure facilities, it is important that they have a child-friendly infrastructure close to their homes that stimulate physical activity. Exercise through play and sports serves as both a preventive measure which promotes the health development of each individual and the joy of life. More quality of life in front of your own doorstep! How will the housing companies include this important aspect in their future concepts?
Axel Gedaschko: "Many of our member companies provide open spaces in their neighbourhoods where tenants can engage in sporting activities. These include both public squares and also playgrounds and outdoor fitness equipment, which are particularly popular among the older residents.
Sports and exercise are part of the overall urban mobility. The close cooperation between the city and housing companies is a great opportunity to create and design designated free spaces for residents.
In addition, there are also projects in which the housing companies, together with partners, provide the tenants with sports programmes and similar offerings. For example, degewo has been cooperating with partners such as ALBA Berlin or the Berlin State Sports Association in various projects for many years. Since 2015, degewo has been cooperating with 1 FC Union Berlin in the field of youth work. The aim is to give children and young people access to exercise and football already at an early age. For the "degewo am Ball" project, degewo and 1 FC Union jointly send the club's junior coaches to schools in degewo districts to provide support in sports lessons and to integrate football as an essential element in school sports. Because exercise and play are particularly important for children. Children want to climb, slide, swing, balance and simply be out in nature. To do so, they need both protected and versatile playgrounds as well as appropriate open spaces.
P@L: How will we live in the future? Your vision!
Axel Gedaschko: The great challenge of our time will be to implement the digital transformation and climate protection and to integrate both aspects in the housing policy in so far as housing must be affordable for people in Germany.
Due to the positive economic development in recent years, the share of households with excessive housing costs decreased from 16 percent in 2014 to 12 percent in 2019, according to current data from the Federal Statistical Office.
Looking beyond the period of the Corona pandemic, however, it must be clear to everyone that the financial situation of many citizens will be worse than before, at least in the medium term. This must be the basis for all considerations regarding climate protection activities, digitisation and demographic change. It also represents a challenge for our industry to keep an eye on the relevant development among our own tenants and to adapt our own measures accordingly.
In any way, the affordability of future housing for social cohesion must be at the top of the agenda.
The interview was held by Thomas R. Müller (Playground@Landscape)
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