Housing Vacancies in East German Cities: A Problem not only for Housing Policy
In numerous East German cities extreme imbalances in the housing market have developed with the consequence of extensive housing vacancies. Primarily inner city housing units constructed in the late 19th and early 20th century and housing units constructed within the period of the socialist regime are concerned. The causes for these imbalances can be found in decisions of socialist urban planning, in demographic factors, in oversized federal promotion of new housing construction after the German unification, and in income increases of private households. The commission “Structural Change in the Housing Economy of the New Länder“, installed by the federal government, has examined this problem and submitted preliminary political recommendations on the federal level in order to reduce the housing market imbalances. The commission recommends federal subsidies for tearing off vacant housing units within a period of ten years. A measure like this raises the question how the risk can be handled that too many flats are torn down. In addition, the commission recommends to double the subsidies for households acquiring already existing flats for own use and to halve the subsidies for households investing in newly built owner-occupied housing in East Germany. These incentives to acquire existing housing units might prove too weak because of the strong preferences of East German households to live in single-family houses. Measures on the federal level can support but cannot replace necessary concrete planning and solution strategies in the vacancy-plagued cities “in situ“.