Neither refugees nor beneficiaries of subsidiary protection are obliged to stay in reception centres or other forms of collective accommodation centres. However, in many places, particularly in the big cities, it often proves very difficult for beneficiaries to find apartments after they have been granted protection status. In 2022 it became even more difficult to find apartments. The reasons are numerous. The general housing situation in Germany is very tense; according to a study, Germany will be lacking more than 700,000 apartments in 2023. According to the Heinrich Boeckler Foundation, the lack of low-cost units is even higher. Additionally, beneficiaries of international protection face discrimination on the regular job market or scepticism if the landlords hear that the rent is paid by the Social Welfare Office. Infomigrants has collected a series of reports on the current situation of housing for beneficiaries of international protection. As a consequence, it has been reported that many beneficiaries stay in collective accommodation centres for long periods. This can pose a problem for municipalities since it is not clear on which legal basis they are staying in those centres and which institution has to cover the costs.
No recent statistics or studies on the housing situation of refugees are available. According to a representative study published in 2020, 83% of persons with a protection status who had come to Germany as asylum seekers between 2013 and the end of January 2016 were living in ‘individual accommodation’ (i.e. not in collective accommodation centres).
Some detailed figures are available for the Federal State of Bavaria: In 2022, 20.2% of persons living in collective accommodation centres in March 2022 were considered to be ‘false occupants’ (Fehlbeleger), which is the bureaucratic term for persons who are allowed to leave the centres, but have not found an apartment yet. Out of the 36,835 persons living in decentralised accommodation, 25.6% are ‘false occupants’ (i.e. 9,429 persons).
A study by the Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development published in October 2017 deals inter alia with the housing situation of beneficiaries of international protection in 10 municipalities throughout Germany. More recent studies are not available, but the issues in practice remain. The main findings of this study include the following:
‘Integration into the housing market does not equal integration into society:
In municipalities in which the placement of refugees in the regular housing market succeeds, there is often a lack of prospects for suitable jobs and training positions. In addition, it is difficult for refugees to overcome distances to integration courses, doctors, shopping facilities and friends, as they are dependent on public transport, which has shortcomings in rural regions. These factors complicate the sustainable integration of refugees into society…
A tense housing market situation impedes the integration of refugees on the housing market:
In large cities and university cities with tense housing markets, many refugees live in emergency and collective accommodation with no quality of living for long periods of time. The integration into the housing market is only successful to a certain extent and the construction of new social housing is progressing slowly. In many cities, the fluctuation reserves of the housing market are exhausted and the bottlenecks in part lead to a ‘black market’ for finding accommodation in certain areas…
Placement in flats is not generally better than housing in collective accommodation:
The decentralised accommodation of refugees in flats contributes particularly to the integration into the housing market if the refugees can take over the rental agreements. In practice, it is not always an improvement over placement in collective accommodation. In some places the flats are occupied by many people who have not chosen to share rooms, bathroom and kitchen. The living standard is sometimes lower than in small hostels and privacy is severely limited.’
If refugees or beneficiaries of subsidiary protection cannot provide for the costs, the rent for a room or an apartment is covered by the local social welfare office or the local job centre, but – as is the case for all beneficiaries of social aid in general according to national social law – only up to an ‘adequate’ level. What is considered ‘adequate’ depends on the local housing market, so beneficiaries of protection have to inquire with the local authorities to what amount rent will be reimbursed.
If beneficiaries of protection have an income, but are still living in collective accommodation, authorities regularly impose fees as a contribution to the operational costs of the centres. It has been reported that some municipalities charge excessive fees which may clearly exceed the costs for an apartment in the area. In one case (the town of Hemmingen in Niedersachsen/Lower Saxony), authorities may charge fees up to a maximum of €930 for a place, according to the local statutes. These seemingly excessive costs result from a calculation which includes all operational expenses for the centres, such as costs for social services as well as security and maintenance. In practice, the fees may lead to a situation in which refugees have to pass on their complete income to the local authorities in exchange for a place in a shared room.
Many local organisations and initiatives try to support refugees in finding apartments. One initiative operating for the whole of Germany, ‘Living Together Welcome’ (Zusammenleben willkommen, formerly ‘Refugees Welcome/Flüchtlinge willkommen’) runs an online platform providing assistance for people who want to share a flat with asylum seekers and refugees.
Since August 2016, refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection are generally obliged to take up their place of residence within the Federal State in which their asylum procedures have been conducted. Furthermore, under Section 12a of the Residence Act authorities can oblige them to take up place of residence in a specific municipality within the Federal State (see section on Freedom of movement). One of the provisions introduced in the context of the new law refers explicitly to refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection who still live in a reception centre or another form of temporary accommodation after their status has been determined. They can be obliged to take up their place of residence in a ‘specific place’ in order to provide themselves with ‘suitable accommodation’. The Federal States which have applied this regulation so far refer beneficiaries of international protection to a municipality, not to a particular apartment.
 Infomigrants, Germany: Finding housing as a refugee – an obstacle course (1/3), 14 September 2022, available at: https://bit.ly/3HodAI7; Infomigrants, Germany: Finding housing as a refugee – an obstacle course (2/3), 19 September 2022, available at: https://bit.ly/3Rq1kve; Infomigrants, Germany: Finding housing as a refugee – an obstacle course (3/3), available at: https://bit.ly/3XWdoa9.
 In most Federal States, the municipalities receive support for accommodation of asylum seekers from the Federal State’s budget, but it is not regulated whether this applies to recognised refugees as well. According to a media report, the Federal State of Thuringia has declared that it will cover the municipalities’ costs if refugees are housed in collective accommodation centres: mdr.de, ‘Federal State opens accommodation centres for recognised refugees’, 27 May 2017, available in German at: http://bit.ly/2notjRc.
 Tanis, Kerstin (2020): Entwicklungen in der Wohnsituation Geflüchteter,. Ausgabe 05|2020 der Kurzanalysen des Forschungs- zentrums Migration, Integration und Asyl des Bundesamtes für Migration und Flüchtlinge, available in German at: https://bit.ly/3qSymZk.
 Section 12a(2) Residence Act.