How to Handle Migrants on the Housing Market



In Germany, if your initial paperwork is approved and you are granted refugee status (and in certain other circumstances), you are eligible to move into an apartment that you find and rent yourself. The state gives you a voucher for the rental costs, but it's small. This means, in the coming months, hundreds of thousands of migrants will flood into the market for low-income housing in Germany. There is already a shortage of affordable housing so severe that many German cities have imposed rent controls.

And no, even if the refugees are placed in rural East Germany, they will not stay there. They will all flood into major population centers where they already have relatives and there is an existing Arabic-speaking community. The federal government can't stop this flight into the cities. The German state will never be willing to take the coercive measures necessary to actually force 400 Syrians located in a small East German town where there are no jobs and the locals distrust them. 

So all those migrants are going to flock to Berlin, Dortmund, Cologne, Bremen, Hamburg, etc. In many of these cities, there are already serious shortages of affordable housing. And now come foreign newcomers without jobs who don't speak any German to compete with German citizens for an affordable, decent place to live. And the foreigners, unlike the Germans, are clutching a piece of paper from the government that gives them free rent.

I can see the interviews now: Cindy, A German (or if you prefer Cansu, a long-settled Turkish-German) discount-store cashier, holding her 2 children, says: "I know it was good to take the refugees in and I don't blame them, but what about us German citizens who are already here and are working hard and paying our taxes? Where are our free rent checks? Where are our decent, affordable apartments?"

Of course, Green-party voting journalists will mock Cindy for implicitly comparing her hardship with those fleeing war. (They'll remain uncomfortably silent about Cansu.). Other journalists will produce long, statistics-laden pieces about why the affordable housing crisis really isn't quite as dramatic as you might think. The Bild tabloid will actually print the interview with both Cindy and Cansu, and will be attacked for the 455,003th time for "irresponsibly" inciting xenophobia.

And many working- and lower-middle class Germans will take a fresh look at anti-immigrant political parties.

To ignore this obvious crisis barreling down the road toward us would require a level of foolishness and shortsightedness that nobody expected to see from Germany. Until this summer.

So the Andrew Hammel Tough-But-Fair Think-Tank puts forward this White Paper:

  1. Social and political scientists accept that government benefits which are seen as only going to the poor or foreigners quickly become unpopular and get cancelled. This is a universal constant of human nature that cannot be changed, and any policy which ignores it is doomed. 
  2. Germany's going to need for the migrants alone 500,000 new affordable apartments not in rural East Germany, but in the cities where all the migrants will quickly move to.
  3. Therefore, the German Interior Ministry should announce the 50/50 plan: an ambitious new subsidized housing plan that will build or refurbish one new decent, rent-controlled apartment for low-income Germans for every new apartment built for migrants.
  4. The German Interior Ministry should announce this program right now, not after months of negative press coverage and mounting rage. Also, the federal government will announce that it will provide all the money, so there's no squabbles about which level of government will have to pay.
  5. This ambitious new housing program will be paid for by canceling existing tax cuts and raising the top marginal income tax on the rich by 3%. Also, a 30% inheritance tax on estates over €1 million. In Germany, about €250 billion (g) is passed generation to generation every year in Germany. Little Carlo-Alexander can give up €800 of his monthly €4000 trust-fund allowance to help desperate refugees, can't he?

At this point, my plan looks like a crazy dream. But I wouldn't be surprised to see something like it in, say, mid-2016.

One thought on “How to Handle Migrants on the Housing Market

  1. Seems a safe prediction to say that the millions on their way will head to existing Muslim enclaves, particularly in our federal state of North-Rhine Westphalia, Andrew. This will unleash a tsunami of construction in NRW cities.

    Now that the government is prepared to ease environmental restrictions, giving as reason the refugee crisis, much agricultural and conservation land will be rezoned for building in NRW, no doubt in my local area as well, the Siebengebirge, where developers and builders have been chafing at the bit for years to make a killing at the expense of this unique landscape and ecological oasis.

    It’s unlikely that ugly slab buildings for refugee housing will arise here–those will be built in Bonn and Cologne. What I expect is a continuation of a trend I have seen here for at least the last decade: wealthy and middle-class Germans fleeing Bonn and Cologne to build in our area because–remember the Phil Ochs song–they may vote for the Greens but they don’t want to live in migrant neighborhoods.

    That business leaders called for easing of legal restrictions immediately after the refugee crisis hit the headlines this summer shows how ready they are to exploit a humanitarian disaster and political mismanagement to satisfy their greed.

    Since most people nowadays don’t have any real relationship with or feeling for nature I doubt if the ecological losses caused by migrant resettlement will attract much attention. Nevertheless, the impact will be perceptible in NRW, a state in which, according to Environment Minister Remmel, “Wir sind dabei, die Festplatte unserer Natur unwiederbringlich zu löschen. Auch wenn in NRW durch erfolgreiche Artenschutz- und Naturschutzprojekte die Geschwindigkeit deutlich verlangsamt wurde, schreitet auch bei uns das Artensterben voran.”


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