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BERLIN (dpa-AFX) - No basements, fewer balconies, thinner ceilings: From the construction industry's point of view, simpler apartments could get housing construction in Germany moving again. Currently, gold standard housing is often being built unnecessarily - at high costs, so that the apartments are then hardly affordable for consumers, seven housing associations explained in Berlin on Thursday. In view of the dramatic crisis in housing construction, the alliance of associations called on politicians to question their standards.

State demands are currently geared towards expensive construction with high efficiency standards, criticized the President of the Federal Association of German Housing and Real Estate Companies, Axel Gedaschko. What is needed, however, is "not icing on the cake, but affordable brown bread". New construction is currently not affordable either for developers or for future tenants - which is why not enough new apartments are being built in Germany.

Dramatic slump in residential construction expected

Housing construction is actually in crisis: there is a shortage of hundreds of thousands of homes across Germany - and at the same time, building permits are collapsing. According to the Ministry of Economic Affairs, residential building permits fell by more than a quarter last year. According to a recent study by the construction research institute Arge, this is partly due to the fact that construction costs in major cities have risen by as much as 42 percent in the last four years. At the same time, building interest rates have risen.

According to a forecast by the Euroconstruct research network, 175,000 residential units are likely to be completed in Germany in 2026 - 95,000 fewer than in 2023 and a far cry from the German government's target of 400,000 homes per year. According to the Arge, there is now a shortage of around 800,000 homes in Germany - mainly affordable ones.

Excessively high standards for noise protection and energy efficiency?

The main problem is that construction costs are far too high, said Dirk Salewski, President of the Federal Association of Independent Real Estate and Housing Companies. In times of low interest rates, people in Germany have become accustomed to "building a lot of icing on the cake that nobody really needs".

"We must be allowed to get away from this," demanded Wolfgang Schubert-Raab, President of the Central Association of the German Construction Industry. Take sound insulation, for example: 22-centimetre-thick ceilings are currently being built with a lot of steel - but even 18 centimetres would suffice.

No elevator, no balconies, that saves a lot of money, Gedaschko emphasized. Barrier-free apartments could be offered on the first floor. But in many cities, housing companies would not be able to obtain planning permission in this way.

Dietmar Walberg, head of the Arge study, emphasized that lower requirements did not mean that people could no longer live well in the apartments. Even if only the minimum energy efficiency requirements were met, people would not be living without insulation, but would still have a standard that is unique in Europe. At the same time, there would be no additional energy savings if 16 centimetres of insulation were turned into 25 centimetres.

The study commissioned by the Association for Housing Construction concludes that the majority of current building standards in housing construction are "dispensable both economically, in terms of a general, appropriate and good standard of living and in terms of actually effective climate protection". "A lot is built to high-end standards because there is no other requirement," explained Walberg.

New building type with reduced regulations planned

Construction Minister Klara Geywitz explained that a new type of building with reduced regulations is already in the works. Currently, "there is a Mercedes on the building site every time we build a house", said the SPD politician. "And many of these regulations are not necessary to build a good and safe house." For example, it does not make sense to require underground garages in social housing, even though we know "that they will probably be half empty". Serial and modular construction could also reduce costs.

Housing construction as an economic factor

The crisis in residential construction is not only causing a shortage of affordable housing - according to a second study, it could also hit the entire German economy hard.

In economic terms, the sector is almost as important as the automotive industry, according to the consulting firm DIW Econ on behalf of the German Housing Construction Association. The expected five percent decline in residential construction will therefore lead to a tax shortfall of around five billion euros this year alone. Jobs could also be lost.

The industry associations are warning of a "fatal development in which the crisis in residential construction threatens to trigger a domino effect and thus massive damage for large parts of the economy". According to DIW Econ, a subsidiary of the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), every seventh euro of gross economic value added is directly or indirectly related to residential construction. Around one in seven jobs and 17 percent of tax revenues are also linked to this sector.

Housing construction is not only a social pillar of the state, but also an economic one, said Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens). "Without a housing industry in an upswing or under pressure, no economic upswing can succeed," he emphasized.

Special demand called for

The alliance of associations, which brings together the German Tenants' Association, IG BAU, associations from the housing and real estate industry, the masonry brick industry and the building materials trade, therefore called on federal and state politicians to take action. The industry is in a deep crisis and must be supported with an immediate special demand. Specifically, annual subsidies of 23 billion euros are needed for 100,000 new social housing units and the construction of 60,000 new affordable homes./tam/DP/ngu