Stop playing off refugees against students – DSW

Germany’s Student Welfare Service, or DSW, has warned that students and refugees seeking accommodation should not be played off against each other in the face of a growing shortage of affordable housing.

The 58 local student welfare services organised into the DSW – Deutsches Studentenwerk – have called on federal, state and local governments to ensure that ample affordable housing is provided for students and refugees alike. At their annual conference, delegates from across Germany welcomed local initiatives seeking to make accommodation originally conceived for refugees but no longer needed for that purpose, accessible to students.

However, the delegates stressed that professional support should be available for students and refugees actually living together, for example in flat-sharing communities. A resolution adopted at the conference notes that refugees need both suitable housing and professional attention, including trauma care, for demands that students cannot cope with on their own.

Refugees already living in university cities and having successfully completed initial integration stages should not be resettled to make room for students, DSW said. “We need both: sufficient supply of housing for students and for refugees. The two groups should not be played off against each other,” said DSW President Dieter Zimmermann at the conference.

According to a survey commissioned by the real estate industry last spring, both the refugee crisis and immigration have been putting pressure on house prices as well as on rented accommodation. The survey predicted rent hikes of 6% for Berlin and 3% for Hamburg. Cheap new accommodation for refugees would change little in the medium term because they would later on seek accommodation via the regular housing market. Student accommodation was already a problem before the refugee crisis set in.

Students of architecture at the University of Cologne presented concepts to promote the integration of refugees last spring. The city of Cologne has been using sports halls and other recreational facilities to accommodate refugees – a practice that has caused tension because some sports activities have had to be cancelled. Headed by Professor of Architecture Rüdiger Kargel, 29 students developed ideas to create cheap housing for refugees and locals.

The students analysed districts in Cologne to identify potential suitable areas for their 'Mixed Integration' project. Solutions ranged from making use of disused industrial buildings and goods sheds to visionary schemes like erecting superstructures along entire lengths of streets.

In a more down-to-earth measure, the city of Lüneburg has started to accommodate students in portacabins in its Rettmer district. Fewer refugees coming to Lüneburg than expected has left vacancies in the container settlement that are now being offered to some of the 1,500 first-year students seeking accommodation.

Michael Gardner Email: