Where can European cities find accommodation for the increasing number of asylum seekers and refugees? The German city of Hamburg has found an answer with 'tiny houses'.
In the harbor city of Hamburg in Germany's north around 100 migrants – sometimes more – arrive every day. Most are refugees from Ukraine, and many them are without a roof over their heads, according to the state's minister for economic affairs, Melanie Leonhard.
With 50,000 public housing places expected to be needed by the end of the year, the city has had to think hard, and fast, about where to find them. Shelving the unpopular solutions of tent cities and school gymnasiums, it has opted instead for so-called 'tiny houses': small modular units that can be located almost anywhere where there is available land.
"We urgently need every place to accommodate people seeking protection in Hamburg," said Roberto Klann, the managing director of the social enterprise Fördern & Wohnen (Support and Living), which is in charge of the project to build the first of these modular houses at the 'Neue Huckepack' ('New Piggyback') train station in the central suburb of Rothenburgsort.
'Good quality of life'
The modular homes are not quite the same as the fashionable 'tiny houses' seen in lifestyle magazines. Each of the units is a bare white container consisting of two bedrooms, separated by a small kitchen and a bathroom in the middle. They are stacked to make two-storey buildings with six rooms each.
At the Piggyback station site, there will be two lots of seven homes, a large community center, a playground and a football pitch, said Leonhard on a visit there last Friday (December 9). When the first residents move in around the start of January, there will be little evidence of the flowering meadow that has been planted at the site: the residents will have to wait for the summer.
Leonhard says the modular homes, which were also used to house refugees in 2015/2016, offer "good quality of life." The problem in 2022, however, is a serious shortage of available space to build this kind of accommodation, and a lack of staff. The Piggyback site has been leased from the Hamburg HafenCity quarter for three and half years. It is not clear what will happen to the homes after that.
Demand expected to grow
For now, 50 of the tiny homes have been ordered from a company in the Netherlands. If they turn out to be a success, Leonhard says there are plans to roll them out in other parts of the city. The tiny houses could also be used in addition to existing facilities, such as homeless or youth centers, she said: "Wherever the infrastructure is already there that you can dock onto."
One of the main aims of the initiative is to free up school sports halls, currently being used for short-term refugee accommodation, so that they can be put to proper use, as school and general sports facilities. "Hopefully this can now be done step by step," said Leonhard.
But the success of the plan is dependent on whether the number of migrants and refugees continues to grow. The German government is not making any public predictions, but a recent report from the OECD said that by the end of 2022, the number of migrants will exceed that in 2015. The Austrian migration researcher and founder of the European Stability Initiative, Gerald Knaus, has also warned of a "winter of refugees."
Also read: Ukrainian refugees push German cities to their limits
"If you turn on the television and see how the situation in Ukraine is getting worse in terms of energy supply and the like, then you have to assume that the numbers will at least remain as they are now, and possibly even increase," said Leonhard, adding that the number of migrants from Afghanistan and Syria is also on the rise.
Hamburg certainly anticipates a need for more accommodation in the months ahead. From Ukraine alone, the city hosts almost 20,000 people who are dependent on public accommodation. In a press release last week the city appealed to anyone wishing to offer land or property to send an email to email@example.com.