For many, living and working in Hamburg is a dream come true. However, for those with a low-income it can be a nightmare, at least when it comes to housing: as in many other major metropolises, affordable living space for families, students, the elderly, those with disabilities, or anyone whose income is particularly tight is hard to come by. Unfortunately, non-German origin often further complicates the situation. Luckily, Sozialwohnungen, or ‘social housing’, offers a real alternative to the private housing sector.
The Senate of Hamburg supports the construction of affordable flats with a programme that subsidises housing. Millions of euros are allocated annually to create social housing throughout Hamburg - from HafenCity and Eimsbüttel to Walddörfer. However, this is only a small contribution towards better availability of subsidised housing. Just like on the private housing market, those qualified for subsidised housing must keep their eyes peeled to find the home that suits them.
What is publicly subsidised housing?
Initial rents for social housing flats are fixed. Rent increases are possible biennially and only in accordance with all relevant guidelines. Rental costs for subsidised flats are usually significantly below market value.
What form do I need to be eligible for social housing?
The eligibility permit for subsidised housing, also called the 'Paragraf 5-Schein, serves as formal proof that you meet the requirements for social housing. To receive the form, an application must be submitted orally or in written form to the respective housing department (Wohnungsamt) of the district in which you are registered. If authorised accordingly (for example, by power of attorney), a third person can submit the application for you.
The permit is valid for 12 months from the date of issue. Barring major changes to your income or living situation, a new permit can be obtained with relative ease. For further information, please refer to your housing department.
Who is eligible?
Anyone who is a long-term German resident and receives an annual income below a certain level is eligible for the permit (see below). The permit is valid only for flats of a certain size, depending on the number of respective tenants.
What is the maximum legal income?
In Hamburg, the maximum income is stipulated in the Hamburg Subsidised Housing Act (Hamburgisches Wohnraumförderungsgesetz - HmbWoFG). Maximum income levels are dependent on several factors.
Singles may receive up to €17,400 net income annually and still be eligible for the permit. This corresponds to a gross annual income of approximately €25,900. For a two-person household, the limit lies at an combined net income of €26,100 per year, which corresponds to €38,300 gross. Every child in the household raises the limit by an additional €1,000 net per year.
May I exceed the income limit?
In Hamburg, income limits may be exceeded by 30%. In certain cases, limits may be exceeded by up to 85% but also result in higher rents. Please inquire with the relevant authorities.
How much space can I expect?
A single person is eligible for a flat with 50 square metres of space. Regardless of the overall size of the flat, households with more than one person are eligible for one bedroom (up to 15 sqm) per person. A family of five is thereby entitled for a five bedroom flat. Married couples, single parents or couples with the intention of starting a family are eligible for an extra room. No additional form is needed for this rule. Upon application, special cases, for example for those with disabilities, can be approved immediately. Please inquire with your respective authorities.
What documents do I need?
For the application, please prepare and filled out the form and bring along a copy of your ID card or passport, official proof of residence, the filled-out and signed income statement and proof of your income during the previous 12 months. In some cases, additional papers may be required. If necessary, the housing department will assist you in filling out the respective forms.
Where do I find suitable flats?
Publicly subsidised housing can be found via landlord lists at your housing department, as well as on the internet or in local newspapers. Look for indication that flats are suitable for subsidised housing.
What do I do in urgent cases?
If you happen to find yourself in an extraordinary living situation due to external circumstances and are in need of assistance in your search for suitable housing, a Dringlichkeitsschein (lit. ‘urgency certificate’) can be acquired upon application. Those eligible for such a certificate may include: people facing homelessness, households with insufficient living standards, those with disabilities, those suffering from illness, the elderly, released prisoners or people facing eviction. The certificate can be acquired at your housing department. The permit enables you to apply for additional housing that is exclusively reserved for the above-mentioned groups of people.
Will I be facing costs?
Depending on the kind of permit you will receive, expect fees between €9 - €20. Fees must be settled via cash or credit/debit card before receiving the permit.
Good luck with your flat hunt!