Migrants’ Access to the Rental Housing Market in Germany: Housing Providers and Allocation Policies

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-7635

Article | Open Access

Migrants’ Access to the Rental Housing Market in Germany: Housing Providers and Allocation Policies


  • Heike Hanhörster ILS—Research Institute for Regional and Urban Development, Germany
  • Isabel Ramos Lobato Helsinki Institute for Urban and Regional Studies, Department of Geosciences and Geography, University of Helsinki, Finland


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Abstract:  Housing markets play a decisive role in the spatial distribution of populations and the integration of immigrants. Looking specifically at Germany, shortages of low-rent housing in many cities are proving to be an open door for discrimination. This article looks at the influence institutional housing providers have on migrants’ access to housing. Based on 76 qualitative interviews with housing experts, politicians, local government officials, civil society and academics, the internal routines of housing companies are examined for the first time in a German context, looking at what effect they have on producing socio-spatial inequality. Using Lipsky’s (1980) ‘street-level bureaucracy’ as our conceptual framework, we argue that the barriers denying migrants access to the rental housing market are attributable to two factors: the organisational culture, whether in the form of official guidelines (‘policy as written’) or of day-to-day activities in the front-line context (‘policy as performed’), and the huge gap between the two. Corporate policies, the resultant allocation policies, staff training and housing company involvement in local governance structures play a decisive role in determining migrants’ access to housing. The goal of achieving the right social mix and the lack of guidelines for housing company staff in deciding who gets an apartment—turning their discretionary power into a certain kind of ‘forced discretion’—in many cases arbitrarily restrict access to housing in Germany. Theoretically embedding these findings in organisational sociology, the article adds to urban geographical and sociological research into the drivers and backgrounds of residential segregation.

Keywords:  allocation policies; discrimination; diversity policies; housing market; institutional housing providers; migration-led institutional change; social mix; street-level bureaucracy

Published:   27 April 2021


DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/up.v6i2.3802


© Heike Hanhörster, Isabel Ramos Lobato. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.