Student housing

"We lack the guidelines, the Fortune teller's ball and the means for the sustainable student housing of tomorrow"

Micha Nebel - Head of the Student Housing Department
Wohnheim Quartier Vauban in Landau...
Wohnheim Quartier Vauban in Landau...

Micha Nebel heads the department's 17-member team and is responsible for 971 tenants in seven housing complexes in Landau, Germersheim, Ludwigshafen and Worms.

Mr Nebel, what has changed in the student housing market?

We were very curious to see how the student housing market would develop after the pandemic. In 2022, we were most concerned with the question of whether the housing market would revert to its pre-pandemic state. And - we can say this right from the start - no, it hasn't.

Two things specifically struck us. Firstly, there was a tendency for students to plan their university day around the attendance days Tuesday to Thursday. In many conversations, we noticed that this was obviously the way things were done. That wouldn't be a problem in itself if it weren't for the fact that students make a second decision that is very important to us, namely that they no longer need a flat at their place of study, but that it is cheaper to commute to the university from Tuesday to Thursday in their parents' car. Very understandable, but questionable for our housing supply. Where previously there were 4-5 applicants for one place in a hall of residence, in 2022 there were the first locations where hall of residence places were temporarily empty. This is a situation we have never experienced before and we do not know what the future will bring.

On the other hand, the shared housing concept has become very problematic. Almost all the vacant rooms were shared rooms. At first we thought this was an understandable effect of the hygiene regulations during the pandemic, but we had to realise that this trend has manifested itself. I wouldn't recommend anyone in the student housing market right now to rely on shared rooms when building a student hall of residence. We will take this into account for our new building at Annweilerstraße 17 with 199 places. In 2026 - according to current planning - it will go into letting. I don't have a crystal ball here, but I don't see any signs that the trend towards the one-bedroom flat will somehow weaken. And we as landlords should of course clearly orient ourselves to demand in order to avoid vacancies.

What was the biggest difficulty for you in 2022?
A real shock for us was the rejection by the federal government of the subsidies from the KfW40 programme, which came as a surprise in January 2022, even though we had submitted all documents completely and on time. The sudden lack of 4.1 million euros would have catapulted the project in Landau's Annweilerstraße straight into oblivion. We were very relieved when the federal government promptly reversed this decision. But even this short period of uncertainty made the project much more expensive for us, because the banks did not wait for us with their lending rates.

What is missing now is a clear structure of what the funding and funding conditions for sustainable building should look like in the long term and a political statement on how we as the Studierendenwerk can also benefit from the funding in such a way that we can renovate to make it more energy efficient or build new buildings and do so at rents that are affordable for students. After all, affordable, socially acceptable rents are our statutory mission. We cannot fulfil this without political support.

What was positive?
A real, positive quantum leap is the new credit model of the investment bank of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, which for the first time also enables adequate financing for the construction of new halls of residence. We can only hope that it will be continued beyond 2024 and then always adjusted to current prices and interest rates on the money market. Then it could become the instrument for creating more student housing that we have long been waiting for.
It's annoying that we don't have a building project in the pipeline now. The last building project in Landau's Paul-von-Denis-Strasse for about 110 dormitory places had to be called off due to the planning uncertainty during the pandemic.

However, building projects cannot be just thrown out of the fence anyway, but are always the result of many years of preparatory work. And at the moment we don't have an ad hoc construction project in the pipeline and there is already a valid contract for our ALDI project. Bad luck for us, but nevertheless the credit model is the right signal for the future. If the good conditions get a future...

What was a highlight for you?
We are a little proud of the fact that we found a very good answer to the rising energy prices relatively quickly. We were able to cushion the additional energy costs for our tenants until the end of the 2022 financial year. However, we had to increase the service charges for all tenants by at least 30 euros on 1 January 2023. It was clear to us that this one-time increase might not be enough, so we came up with the saving, albeit not entirely new, idea: saving energy.

So far so good. But how to make such an unattractive measure popular in the hall of residence? Our communication department had the brilliant idea: An energy-saving challenge among all the halls of residence and all 971 tenants. Our seven halls of residence competed against each other to save energy from October 2022. Each month there was a prize for the best energy-saving idea and the hall of residence with the greatest energy savings could win a party for the whole hall of residence. We were pleased to find that this worked very well. A really nice side effect of this was that the joint, solidarity-based energy saving brought the dorm communities closer together. The prize will then be awarded in spring 2023. Of course, we are thinking about repeating the whole thing next autumn, especially if energy prices remain at this level or rise again during the cold season.
Endergebnis unserer Energie-Spar-Challenge

What other projects were implemented?
For me, the revision of our welcome culture was an important project in 2022. According to the motto: "You never have a second chance to make a first impression", we took a very concrete look at the areas in which we wanted to improve for our tenants. On the one hand, this was the complete area of tenant information, in order to be able to talk to our tenants faster, more directly and more precisely.
On the other hand, we revised our concept of house management and gave the house management more decision-making power and the colleagues in the housing complexes more room for manoeuvre, but also imposed even more proximity to the tenants. There is no substitute for personal contact and a present and competent house management can solve 90 percent of all enquiries before they become a problem.

Apart from that, there are of course always smaller or larger construction projects in the department.
In detail, we have implemented the following projects:
  • Worms, Bebelstraße hall of residence: Opening of the large lawn with a terrace with chairs, sunshades and a barbecue area; there are now 3 very popular smoking areas in the hall of residence - one for each floor.
  • Germersheim, dormitory at the university: Construction of a barbecue area with seating area.
  • Landau, dormitory Godramsteinerstraße and dormitory Charles-de-Gaulle-Straße / Lina-Kößler-Straße: Construction of a barbecue area with seating groups.
  • Worms, Erenburgerstraße hall of residence: securing a wall lintel on the hall of residence grounds.
  • Ludwigshafen, Heinigstraße hall of residence: Renovation of the courtyard into a feel-good area with seating groups and barbecue area and additionally equipping with completely new paving according to the latest specifications.

A year for barbecue fetishists?
Could seem like that! But it had a different background. In 2022, the aspect of good togetherness in our halls of residence was an important issue for us. After the years of isolation during the pandemic, we were keen to create more spaces and places for our tenants to meet and interact socially. We felt it was high time to bring more life back into the halls of residence. It was clear to the students that the past three years had left negative traces. And social togetherness works best with shared spaces and the corresponding development of these places. In 2022, we have set our sights on the outside areas of our halls of residence, and in 2023 the common rooms will follow.

What is your forecast for 2023 and longer term?
We see a slight easing on the student housing market and have even had the first, short-term vacancies in the halls of residence. Here we have to keep an eye on the situation at the universities. Especially the Tuesday-to-Thursday study, which is very often communicated to us, makes it more attractive and cheaper for many students to commute from their parents' home to the university than to pay rent. Of course, I hope - also for the social quality of a degree programme for our students - that this will not manifest itself. But in the future we may have to deal with the possibility that fewer students will be looking for a place to live. We will reassess the situation after the move-ins in the winter semester 2023 and then - if necessary - take further steps. For it remains to be seen whether we will experience a temporary effect in the wake of the pandemic or whether this trend of "commuter studies" will manifest itself. We are also curious to see how the universities will deal with this trend.

Another trend is the possibility of online studies. In the meantime, many students have told us that after the Bachelor's degree, they can also complete the Master's degree in some areas completely online. Here, timesharing is recommended as a new residential model. This means that during the lecture period, another tenant lives in the flat, just like during the non-lecture periods. Both tenants pay only half the rent. Of course, it will be a task for us to examine to what extent these can also become rental models for us. This will be shown by the further development of the student housing market, which we will have to wait and see. In any case, we are open to contemporary, modern forms of housing if the market allows it and our allocation guidelines permit.

In my opinion, building your own independent life is pretty much the most important course you can take at your university. And we would like to remain an important partner in this step.

Your contact person for the area
Micha Nebel
Head of Student Residence Department
Xylanderstrasse 17
76829 Landau
Tel.: +49 6341 9179 150