(Living) Space for Refugees – What Companies Can Do to Help
Whether it’s by providing jobs, donations or volunteer services – many companies make a commitment to help refugees integrate on arrival in Germany. That’s wonderful.
One of the biggest challenges refugees face in metropolitan regions is securing access to adequate and affordable housing. In Berlin alone, 2000 asylum seekers who successfully concluded their asylum procedure and are allowed to live and work here were still living in emergency shelters in July 2016 – due to the lack of adequate housing. To this are added the tens of thousands of refugees with pending asylum proceedings and those living in refugee homes who would prefer to move into private homes, shared flats or stay with host families to be able to settle, integrate and thrive in their new cities and municipalities.
Whether small, medium or large – companies can do something about the lack of space – here are some options:
Space needed – How small and large businesses can help
Offer rooms to day visitors
A quiet getaway from the noise and the chaos of mass accommodation facilities – this is what refugees wish for and need most. In many companies, meeting or conference rooms are not always in use. Some cafés may have periods during the day when only few tables are occupied. So what could be more obvious than inviting the residents of a nearby refugee home to use the empty tables or rooms when not in use? You never know what may come out of it. The best way to do it is to establish a direct contact.
Through an app? It would actually be really great if someone could come up with an app or website that brings together those offering space and those seeking to use it.
Involve your employees in the flat hunt
Some companies hire refugees – but often their new employees continue to live in collective accommodation facilities and shared bedrooms. 50% of refugees – most of them young and travelling alone – would like to live with a German host family or in a shared flat to improve their language skills and integrate better. Why not publish an ad on your notice board or intranet to assist your new employee and other refugees in their search for a flat? In Germany, the rent for refugees is paid by the social security office or the refugees themselves. There are numerous initiatives in Germany, Austria and Switzerland that offer advice on housing matters and help with the bureaucratic procedures.
In order to provide, build or share housing, many things are required, including expertise in communications, press relations, graphic design, translation, IT or campaigning, but sometimes also building materials, crafts skills, local knowledge, furniture etc. This is where companies can bring in their expertise. For example, they could partner with (emergency) shelters to help refugees find flats or move house, or they could use their resources to support local initiatives.
Interim financing through loans/donations
It can take up to three months – at least in Berlin – for private landlords to receive rent payments from the authorities. Often enough, housing opportunities fail due to lack of financial means. Local initiatives provide as much support as they can – which drags resources away from other activities. Therefore donors are sought particularly in Berlin to help raise temporary funds and bridge the time until the government pays for the rent. 20,000 or 30,000 euros would already make a huge difference.
Some companies own flats to temporarily house employees and which they could rent to refugees. The flats could be made available to social services or initiatives providing housing-related assistance to refugees. Given the organisational and linguistic challenges involved, they could even be rented directly by one of the relevant associations which could take on the task of finding suitable tenants.
Make houses or larger buildings available
Nestwerk Berlin, for instance, is currently looking for residential buildings in Berlin or in the surrounding areas where 20 to 40 refugees and locals can live together in shared, multi-cultural communities – as already put into practice at Refugio Berlin. This could also be on an interim basis of two years or more.
Offer building space on flat roofs or at ground level
Many cities are lacking affordable rental homes. New houses need to be built. Several cost-effective and efficient solutions exist. One solution was developed by the foundation Hoffnungsträger. Because their “houses of hope” (Hoffnungshäuser) consist of prefabricated modules, they can be built fairly quickly. The idea is to create shared living spaces for locals and refugees. The “only” thing needed is land on which to build on.
The architects of Nestwerk Berlin even plan to build homes without taking up building land. They develop cube-shaped living modules which can serve as short-term or long-term dwellings and accommodate one or several residents. The fully furnished units can be placed on flat roofs of community centres, factory buildings or apartment blocks without damaging the roof cladding or statics.
Of course, the living units can also be built on the ground. It is even possible to stack several modules on top of each other. For this, too, unused plots are sought.
Model project: Nestwerk Berlin is currently looking for a suitable roof or plot to build a model home in early 2017 and give all those interested an idea what it will look like. If you have an unused roof or plot, please get in touch with us.
Lease surfaces and building sites: We are also looking for companies and associations in Germany (especially in metropolitan areas) willing to make available or lease their roofs or surfaces in order to build living cubes on them. One such unit costs approx. 25,000 euros and pays off within 15 years. With interest rates as low as they are, this could actually turn out to be quite a reasonable investment.
Contact also via: www.nestwerkberlin.de