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Union Investment and GBI Capital join forces to create high-quality urban ensembles with affordable homes

In times of rapidly rising rents and spiralling utility costs, there is an increasing focus on the need to include affordable housing in new real estate developments, especially when creating entire urban districts. Two funding experts in this field – Hamburg-based real estate investment manager Union Investment and GBI Capital – have teamed up to ensure these projects are sustainable and targeted at the relevant sectors of society.

One of the first joint projects being implemented by GBI and Union Investment is located in Hamburg’s Wandsbek district. “The focus of our Wandsbek Market development, which is being carried out in conjunction with the district council, is not only on creating restaurant space and commercial premises but also housing. The specific mix of uses within the residential block is currently being finalised, but the units will all be rental apartments,” says Ronald Joachim Behrendt, senior project manager at Union Investment. He continues: “Among the options under discussion are a daycare centre for elderly people and living space for apprentices and students. In total, around 140 new rental apartments are being built, of which at least 35 per cent will be subsidised housing. We are delighted to be working with the GBI Group, a partner with many years of experience and extensive expertise in this important area.”

Key element of high-quality urban environments

The Wandsbek Market development will create a vibrant centre in the heart of Wandsbek that meets the needs of residents and significantly improves quality of life and the user experience at the location. The area is set to become a social hub and meeting place for people of all ages from across east Hamburg and neighbouring Schleswig-Holstein. “We’d be delighted if our expertise in subsidised housing helps to create a vibrant neighbourhood for different user groups,” says Simon Behr, managing director at GBI Capital. He adds: “The number of people aged over 60 is expected to increase in the district.” In fact, the largest population group – baby boomers – will reach retirement age by the mid-2030s and will have specific housing needs within their communities, like in Wandsbek. “We aim to meet these needs with our SMARTments senior living concept,” says Behr. “We will offer units of manageable sizes, a range of services, convenience and healthcare support, which residents will hopefully not really need for another 20 to 25 years.” Behrendt firmly believes that affordable apartments are a key element of high-quality urban environments: “The subsidised rents are fixed for at least 20 years, which provides long-term planning security for both the residents and the neighbourhoods. That’s an important and reassuring prospect, particularly in these current unpredictable times.”

It’s a win-win situation

The GBI Group, of which GBI Capital is part, began developing subsidised housing in 2016 as one of the very first private real estate companies to do so. At that time, there was no legal provision for such projects to be handled by private investors. The number and proportion of affordable apartments were in steep decline as a result. “To counter this trend, it was necessary to negotiate relevant agreements with the authorities in a number of federal states. That proved to be an important step for the entire real estate and investment industry,” explains Simon Behr. “Expanding the supply of affordable housing remains a key challenge and one we can now tackle even more effectively thanks to our partnership with Union Investment. Private money, which often comes from retirement savings, will be invested securely and efficiently. It’s a win-win situation because it creates much-needed affordable housing.”

The funding policy for social housing in Hamburg is one of the most attractive arrangements in Germany, both for normal apartments and for student accommodation. Different rules apply in each of the country’s 16 federal states. “Keeping track of everything is complicated,” says Behr. “In our company, we actually have a dedicated task force to handle this, which includes colleagues from the fields of finance, investment and construction engineering. The federal states often announce new funding conditions at the start of each year. These may be due to changes in specifications for the floor plans or structural details, for example.” Access to this information is the basis of GBI Capital’s comprehensive subsidy management system, which includes support for all services around subsidised housing, from project development to fund management.

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