What does 2000 mean per living space

Real estate: Too few apartments are not the problem

Before the corona pandemic dominated the news, the situation on the housing market was one of the defining topics. There was and is talk of a housing shortage, a housing shortage, even a housing crisis. There seems to be a consensus that a lack of apartments is primarily responsible for the massive increases in rents and property prices. If more were built, according to the market economy, prices would also fall back to a tolerable level.

But is that really true? If you turn the idea around, are the prices so high today because living space has become so much scarcer than it used to be? The statistics clearly say: no.

The number of apartments per 1000 inhabitants has risen in almost all federal states since 2000, as data from the Federal Statistical Office show. The only exception is Berlin. Here the number has decreased slightly, but with 535 apartments per 1000 inhabitants it is still above the values ​​in most other federal states. In Bremen the number stagnates at 526 and 527 apartments respectively.

This also shows a classic socio-demographic difference between urban and rural areas, or in this case: between urban and urban states. Significantly more singles and couples live in the cities. That is why there are usually more apartments per 1000 inhabitants, because every single and every couple needs their own apartment (if they do not live in a shared apartment), while the classic small-town family shares an apartment with three, four or five people. This can also explain the fact that the conservative states of Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg and Hesse have the fewest apartments per 1000 inhabitants.

In order to see how scarce living space is, it is therefore advisable to compare the number of apartments with the number of households. In many places this has grown faster than the population, not least because of the increasing number of single households. The so-called overcrowding rate has remained roughly the same in Germany over the years. It records when apartments are too small for their residents, for example when parents do not have their own bedroom but have to sleep in the living room.

The fact that there are more smaller households in large cities is an increasing trend, but not a new one. What is new, however, is the quantities in which people move to the big cities. This can be seen most clearly in Berlin, which even lost net inhabitants around the turn of the millennium, but is now gaining population on the scale of a small to medium-sized town year after year. Can that explain the housing shortage?

The answer is less obvious than it seems. Between the year 2000 and 2018, Berlin gained just one percent of its inhabitants. At the same time, the number of apartments has increased by five percent and the total living space by as much as eleven percent. So you would think that the situation in Berlin has even eased.

That this is not the case is due to the structure of the households. The number of single households has increased by almost a quarter since the turn of the millennium. So there aren't that many more people, but so many more, especially smaller households.

In Hamburg, the other city-state hotspot, the population has also grown more slowly than the number of apartments or living space. And the number of single households rose significantly less here than in Berlin. Even in the most expensive federal state of Bavaria, the picture is similar: while the population has increased by one percent, the number of apartments has increased by 15 percent and the total living space by as much as 23 percent.

Because that is also part of the truth: In the midst of the housing crisis, people don't have less and less space, but more and more. Obviously, this applies above all to the more rural federal states, where there is a lot of space. The front runner is Saarland with a good 54 square meters per person, followed by Rhineland-Palatinate with just under 54 square meters.

Obviously, there is comparatively little space per inhabitant in the city-states. But even here the number of square meters has increased despite the housing shortage, in Hamburg by as much as eleven percent.

In fact, however, and this is where we come full circle, the increased construction activity is also likely to have led to the comparatively positive figures. Last year, more construction projects were approved than since the turn of the millennium. Even in tense real estate markets such as Bavaria, Berlin and Hamburg, the number of building permits increased again significantly in the 2010s. At the same time, the price increase recently decreased significantly for the first time.

But the latest figures also give cause for concern: There has been less construction in the capital recently, and building permits for apartments there fell from a good 24,000 in 2018 to around 22,600 last year. The trigger is likely to be the rent cap and fear of further government intervention.

Whether real estate prices and, in particular, rental prices will subsequently pick up again will be revealed by the publication of the next rent index at the latest. One thing is clear: if apartments were not in short supply in a year-on-year comparison, they could soon become one.

So if the numbers as a whole only partially justify the crisis vocabulary, it also shows that if the wrong political decisions are made, the real estate district can tighten again faster than anyone would like. This is not good news, especially in times of Corona.

The section “Look behind the numbers” is being created with the support of the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis). WirtschaftsWoche is solely responsible for the content of the articles.

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