Housing Assistance and Subsidies in Germany



Over the years as rent plunged, foreign nationals moved from high-density residential areas to large housing estates.

As part of its social benefits, the Federal Government offers residents, regardless of nationality, housing assistance in adequate and affordable dwellings.

Even during pre-unification Germany, housing assistance catered more on salaried residents and lower-middle income households. Housing assistance programs are developed by the municipalities and are intervened by the Federal Government when municipalities are overburdened with the cost of social benefits.

Housing assistance in Germany comes in the form of social housing or housing allowance. The legal framework of social housing in Germany has been present since the start of the 20th century and prioritizes low and medium income groups.

"I struggled with the German bureaucracy (Anmeldung, Tax ID number, etc). Indeed, the majority of the people working in the German administration are only speaking German and I don’t!" - Salvatore Musina, Expat in Berlin

Currently, there are 2 types of social housing. The first is the Förderweg, a system of federally regulated rent wherein monthly rate starts at €4 and rises over time as credit subsidies on landlords fall. The other social housing variation is in the form of owner-occupied dwellings wherein units are purchased and recipients are aided in paying their mortgages.

Eligible recipients of social housing are qualified based on housing needs and are issued with WBS permits (Wohnberechtigungsschein) by the municipality. Applicants should have residence permits valid for 1 year to be able to qualify. Qualifications are regularly adjusted to align with the changing income ceilings. From this pool of eligible applicants, public and private landlords further choose prospective tenants based on their judgment. More information on the WBS permit is available at the local housing authority (Amt für Wohnungswesen).

Through the years, the German housing policy has shifted greater focus from the supply of social housing to the distribution of housing allowance (Wohngeld) by the local town hall.

Receiving allocated housing allowance is a legal right to German residents regardless of their type of housing tenure. Social housing tenants, private renters and owner-occupiers are welcome to apply for this benefit. The allowance is computed with 3 parameters: size of household, eligible income and qualified housing financial obligation.

Housing allowances have become limited to those who do not receive other forms of income transfers. Residents receiving the basic social security benefits, which have an element in housing cost, are no longer eligible to apply for housing allowance.

Students may also apply for subsidized student rentals through the local student services organization (Studentenwerk).

The local Housing Office (Wohnungsamt) and the state-run housing associations (Wohnungsgesellschaften) provide information on available units for rent.


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