Social Housing in the German City of Bottrop

The city of Bottrop in Germany is in transition.  Located in the Ruhr area of Germany, Bottrop is also located in the German state of Nordrhein-Westfalen.  Bottrop is one of the remaining cities in Germany that is actively producing coal.  While that is set to change in 2019, the city is still dependant on the industry for jobs.  The demographic and housing dynamics in the area mimic similar cities from around the world that are located in industrial areas of a country.  Approximately 117,000 people live in Bottrop right now.  The city by most accounts is shrinking but a recent influx of immigrants is causing some stabilization of the population.   It should be noted, the demographic change is not drastic as in 2000 the population stood at 120,611 and in 2000 shrunk only a little to 116,771.  As Bottrop remakes itself into an “Innovation City”, the strategy for housing is also coming into focus.  Bottrop is not growing so the key is optimizing the existing stock while keeping an eye towards the need of the population of the future.

I met with Hans-Jurgen Bode the Executive Director of the Bottrop Municipal Housing Company and Kerstin Sebellek the Director of Property Management and Development activities.   The housing company owns and manages 1800 properties of which around 40% are social and the remaining 60% are market rate.   The founding of the association occurred during the Second World War in 1940.    The average rent price for the social housing apartments is around 4.40 euro per square meter.  In American rental language that means a 600 square foot social unit on average costs less than 300 euro a month or around $300.  The average rent on a new apartment that is the same size but market rate is around 7.95 euro per square meter or 500 euro a month /a little more than $500 a month.   It is clear the cost of living in this city is low when compared with other areas of Nordrhein-Westfalen.  The rents and atmosphere are comparable to an Akron or Cleveland, Ohio.

The social housing system in Bottrop is interesting relative to other examined cities.  The social housing rent allowed for newly constructed rental units with a social contract is 5.25 euro a square meter.   That means a 600 square foot apartment, newly constructed, costs around 320 euro a month.  That is very inexpensive but in the USA might be more than some low income families in an income based program might pay.   When I questioned Mr. Bode about the development of new social housing in Bottrop he informed me the need for new housing is not as high as other areas in the region.  The building boom in many ways skipped Bottrop.  The housing stock in the city is older with many of the buildings from the 1960’s and 1970’s.  The housing quality from this era is low so the need in Bottrop is renovation and demolition vs. a massive need for new social housing stock.  The housing company is looking for opportunities to replace roofs, windows and heating systems where possible to improve the efficiency of the existing stock.

The funding of social housing development and renovations come from the state of Nordrhein-Westfalen and is then delegated to the housing company from the city of Bottrop.  I met with Angelika Wurst and Christian Holtkötter from the city department in charge of allocating housing funding.   Angelika informed me that a developer willing to build new housing and lock in an affordable rate can get an extremely low interest rate of .5% for the contract time.  That is low but the private market is also offering low interest rates right now that are comparable.  Because of this, Northrhine Westfalen can offer Bottrop and other cities loans where they only need to pay back 80%.  That is a huge incentive and both the city and the German State of Northrhine Westfalen hope this will increase the number of new developments in the upcoming years.  There are additional funding methods to entice developers like an additional amount to install an elevator, incentives to build smaller units and of course extra money and the right to take extra rent by building to passive house standards.  In total, Bottrop spent around 2.4 million in new building and renovating in 2013 and an additional 4.5 million in 2014.

Bottrop while not as big as many of the other cities in the region still is in need of a varied mix of new housing, renovations and specific accommodations to match its population.   Like many cities, the number of new funded housing accommodations is not keeping up with the number of affordable contracts being lost.  As an example, in 2013, the city added 17 new funded units to the portfolio but lost 66.  In 2014, the city added 33 but lost 88.  It is clear that the pressure and the demand for the cheaper subsidized apartments in the city will further increase.   Those having an especially hard time finding housing in Bottrop include families with two children, immigrants and those with bad credit reports.

The city will work with developers to encourage new social housing development because a number of citizens have a low wage in the area and cannot afford a higher rent.  On top of that, the population is aging and the need for apartments without barriers is increasing.  In 1987 the percentage of the population over 60 was around 20% but had increased to more than 25% by 2007.   The population prognosis for Bottrop is not surprising when looking at the situation over the last few decades.  Reports predict that in 2025, Bottrop will see an increase in citizens 65 and over from 23,846 in 2005 to 28,338. The number of citizens 18 and under will shrink from 9041 to 7,398.  The numbers seem to be correct as the percentage of births in Bottrop decreased by a staggering 30% from 1997 to 2006.  That means the city must seriously consider the age of the population in all new and renovated apartment buildings.

Recently the social housing company for the city opened its first Plus Energy House.  Altogether the building contains 6 apartments for low income residents.   The house is putting off enough energy that the business headquarters located next door can actually use the access energy for its needs.   It is a mixture of energy saving building like triple pained windows and strong installation and flooring combined with energy creating devices like photovoltaic panels that render the building so energy efficient.  The rent for the tenants runs at 5.65 euro per square meter without utilities.  Because the building is so efficient, the tenants do not need to pay heating costs.

The employees at the city and the housing company are all very passionate about affordable housing.  When we discussed the needs of the poor and those with handicapped, staff at the city said that every person in the city deserved to enjoy a clean safe apartment that meets the family need.   Mrs. Wurst said “Nobody should need to live in the streets or live in an apartment that does not have an elevator if they are handicapped.  We need to ensure everyone in our population is cared for”.  It is this common belief that I encounter throughout Germany that is always impressing.  There is no talk that if someone is living on the street it is his or her own fault.  While I cannot say that there is nobody in Germany that thinks this way, I do feel confident that the majority of Germans feel it is a basic human right that everyone should have a house no matter the situation.  With a passionate and energetic group of civil servants working in Bottrop, it is clear to see the highest effort will be given to ensure all in need of housing will be provided for.

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