An apartment from the comrades

Renting doesn’t always have to be expensive. That is what housing associations promise. But their attractiveness has unwanted consequences.

Cooperative living is worthwhile for many tenants, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to get hold of a place to stay there.

EA 80 square meter apartment for 500 euros cold – and that in the big city? Yes there is. And even in fair condition. You don’t have to be a Hartz IV recipient who is entitled to social housing. But comrade. More precisely: member of a housing association.

There are almost 2000 such cooperatives in Germany, some of them for more than 100 years. Your main goal: to provide affordable housing and rent it out. Around 2.9 million people are currently members there. Each member has a lifelong right to an apartment in the cooperative. This is currently around 2.2 million apartments, ten percent of all apartments. The rental contracts cannot be terminated. In order to be accepted, the interested parties have to buy shares in the cooperative, the prices vary between several hundred and several thousand euros. The portion even earns interest. Two to five percent is common – a nice extra income in times when safe investments generate almost no interest. Some members therefore buy more shares than prescribed in order to benefit from the high interest rates.

That all sounds fantastic in times of shortage of apartments and rising rents, which many can no longer afford. But the attractiveness of the cooperative has unwanted consequences: Many want to become members, but the stock of apartments is growing too slowly. There is a kind of traffic jam. One cooperative reacts to this by stopping admission, the other with a long waiting list on which it takes years to “wait up”. Or you can link membership to the fact that interested parties first have to successfully get hold of an apartment in the cooperative and then can become a member.

The low rents beckon

The Hamburg “Bauverein der Elbgemeinden eG” founded in 1899, with 21,000 members the largest in Germany, and the third largest in terms of the number of apartments behind the “Aufbau Dresden” and the “Norddeutsche Baugenossenschaft” in Lübeck, shows how these difficulties affect everyday life . The Hamburgers rent 14,000 apartments in inner-city locations as well as in outskirts and even semi-detached houses and single-family houses at fantastic prices. The average cold rent is only 6.30 euros per square meter, which is around two euros less than the average comparable rents in the rent index. Instead, there are “apartments with a medium level of equipment and in a well-maintained condition,” says board member Michael Wulf. They are by no means just old apartments. Ten percent were built after 2000 and cost a mere 9.18 euros per square meter, with another 500 currently under construction. After all, 43 percent were created after 1970 and cost around six euros per square meter.

The low rents are of course attractive. “We have 800 new requests from interested parties every month,” says Wulf. You have to state your wishes for the required apartment on the homepage of the cooperative, but you do not become a member yet. If an apartment becomes available, only those members who want to change and who have been a member for the longest time will be notified. If nobody wants the apartment, the external parties are informed with the oldest requests. The apartment is then rented at the latest. The apartments almost never appear on internet portals such as Immoscout24. “Sometimes you need a lot of patience, depending on the district the waiting time is a few months to several years,” explains Wulf. 750 apartments would be newly assigned every year, around 60 percent of them to members, the rest to external interested parties.

The new, external tenant must then become a member and purchase the shares, the previous tenant will get them back if he gives up membership, a deposit is not required. The minimum shares in Hamburg cost 1,000 euros, and they have been earning interest there at four percent for years. The members determine the amount themselves. “This is an integral part of the membership promotion and is economically feasible for us,” says Wulf. Other cooperatives pay less interest and require more capital.

Cooperatives can afford the lower rents because, on the one hand, they are not profit-oriented. New properties don’t have to pay off after ten, but maybe only after 30 or 40 years. The rents are also regularly increased – unlike, for example, with private landlords, who often do not want to take the step because they fear the trouble with the tenants. On the other hand, the comrades often get building land cheaper from the municipalities. In Hamburg they have to meet certain requirements, such as helping to build cultural facilities or setting up a residential group for people with dementia. The Hamburg Bauverein also treats itself to a little luxury. He is building apartments in the chic Hafencity. Of course, these are only available for ten to 13 euros per square meter. Nevertheless, it is significantly cheaper than from private landlords.