Converting office space – the way out of the housing shortage?

Rent and purchase prices in Germany have been in a continuous upward spiral for several years, there are fewer and fewer social housing – is a conversion of office space the solution? The German Tenants’ Association and other organizations would like to convince the federal government of this with their “Social Housing” initiative and a claim paper.

In Munich, an individual who wants to spend a maximum of 30 percent of their income on housing costs must earn at least 105,000 euros gross annually. In the student city of Heidelberg it is around 70,000 euros and in many other cities the situation is no more relaxed. This data was determined by FOCUS online in January 2021. A study by the German Institute for Economics (DIW) from 2020 showed that in Germany, buying a home can save almost 50 percent of the costs compared to renting a home. Of course, this also drives up the prices of properties for sale – and there is only little living space left for people who are less financially secure: especially since the federal government cannot keep up with the new construction of 1.5 million apartments promised in 2018 as part of the housing offensive .

Criticism of the federal government – office space the solution?

It is therefore not surprising that on the occasion of the accounting of the housing offensive on February 23, 2021, the federal government received a lot of criticism: Both from the tenant and owner associations such as Haus & Grund.

The German Tenants’ Association (DMB), Caritas Disability Aid and Psychiatry, the Industrial Union of Construction, Agriculture and Environment (IG Bau), the German Society for Masonry and Housing Construction (DGfM) and the German Building Materials Trade (BDB) have the initiative “Social Housing ”and make demands on the federal government in their“ acute plan 2025 for social and affordable housing ”. Robert Feiger, Federal Chairman of IG Bau, explains in the initiative’s press statements that in Germany, for various reasons, a social housing disappears every 12 minutes and that it is therefore essential to act.

The initiative proposes converting office space that will no longer be used as such after the pandemic into living space. It could then “not be that offices in attractive inner-city locations are consistently converted into luxury city lofts,” according to the DMB in a press release.

Studies show: potential for 235,000 apartments

This proposal stems from the fact that many companies are currently considering switching more to home offices, which would require less office space. “Social Living” commissioned a study for contemporary construction from the Pesten Institute (Hanover) and the Schleswig-Holstein building research institute ARGE, which was presented in February. Based on their research and calculations, the two institutes see potential for 235,000 “ex-office apartments” in vacant living space by 2025. The renovation could even be significantly cheaper than building new condominiums – despite good residential areas.

Would the conversions really be suitable as social housing?

Of course, the question must be asked how many offices will actually remain empty after the pandemic and where these offices are located. After all, housing construction is not permitted in many industrial and commercial areas, and the infrastructure must, at least in its basic aspects, correspond to that of a residential area. Further problems could arise with noise protection, fire protection and monument protection, accessibility, vehicle parking spaces, the energy supply and the observance of spaces between the individual houses and balconies that may have to be added, as FOCUS explains online. It could therefore be necessary to request new development plans from the cities, which would affect the rapid implementation of the project.

In addition, the corresponding office properties were in all probability not built with the idea that apartments could one day be built there – that is why the renovation would probably create a lot of unused space, which would drive up the square meter price with the above-mentioned hurdles.

FOCUS online nevertheless argues that the construction would be worthwhile: If more affluent people move into the converted property, people who are less financially secure could get better chances of moving into existing, good apartments.

Five specific demands on the federal government

The “Social Living” initiative is of the opinion that the renovations would not do any harm – but Lukas Siebenkotten, DMB President, nevertheless positions himself in an interview with the morning magazine (Das Erste) to appeal to investors. In his opinion, these should be encouraged to promote more affordable living space.

“Social housing” not only demands that the federal government promote the conversion of unused office space, but also cites the following five points in a demand paper: Securing two million social housing by 2030, the targeted promotion of 60,000 new apartments annually (especially in metropolitan areas ), the provision of building land for social housing, the “sufficient” provision of social, barrier-free, affordable housing and the simplification of the conversion of buildings to social and barrier-free housing.

In his interview with Morgenmagazin, Siebenkotten finally declared, on behalf of the entire initiative, that they are not demanding laws from the federal government, but rather that facilitating framework conditions be created and investors motivated.

Image sources: zhu difeng /


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