Fuggerei: The Village Where Rent Has Never Increased

It’s unbelievable, yet real! The Fuggerei is the world’s oldest operating social housing development. Rent hasn’t been raised in this absolutely lovely place since 1520.

Jakob Fugger (aka “Jakob the Rich”) turned his attention to people in need after minting coins for the Vatican and establishing himself as one of Europe’s finest early entrepreneurs. The result of this ambition is the world’s oldest nonprofit social housing development.

It is a fortified enclave inside the city of Ausburg in the German state of Bavaria. It gets its name from the Fugger family and was created in 1516 by Jakob Fugger the Younger (also known as “Jakob Fugger the Rich”) as a facility to accommodate the city’s poor people.

Construction on Fugger’s concept for the golden-walled enclave of Fuggerei, which he planned to provide cheap housing for day workers, craftsmen, and their families, began in 1517. Despite suffering significant damage during a WWII bombing attack, the hamlet was restored to its pre-war form and has been continuously inhabited since its establishment.

The Fuggerei was erected between 1516 and 1523 under the supervision of architect Thomas Krebs, while St. Mark’s Church was added to the town in 1582 by Hans Holl. The city-within-a-city, which was expanded in 1880 and 1938, is made up of private dwellings such as 67 houses, 147 flats, St. Mark’s Church, and an administration building. Because the gates were shut at night, the Fuggerei resembled a little autonomous medieval town in its own right.

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Fuggerei has become one of Augsburg’s most popular tourist sites in the half-millennium since its founding. For only €4, guests may take a tour behind the walls, including a peek inside one solitary residence that has been purposefully kept unoccupied for voyeuristic purposes. All of this access appears to be a steal until a quick calculation reveals that one’s entry ticket costs more than four times the annual rent of Fuggerei inhabitants.

Fuggerei: The Village Where Rent Has Never Increased
FUGGEREI: The Village Where Rent Has Never Increased

Yes, you read it correctly: Rent is three daily prayers and 0.88€ ($1) a year.

There is, of course, a catch. Fuggerei has always been a community for Augsburg’s Roman Catholic residents. Individuals interested in residing there must demonstrate their faith and have become indigent without any outstanding debt, all while having lived in the greater Bavarian city for a minimum of two years prior to their application to live within Fuggerei’s walls.

The devout Fugger was able to ensure a constant supply of upstanding citizens proliferated within his beloved church and extended throughout Bavaria at large through this selection process.

The area’s housing units are 45 to 65 square meter (500–700 square foot) apartments, but because each unit has its own street entrance, it seems like living in a home. There is no communal housing; each family has its own apartment, which contains a kitchen, a parlor, a bedroom, and a little spare room, totaling around 60 square meters. The ground-floor apartments all have a little garden and a garden shed, whilst the upper-floor flats all have an attic.

All units feature contemporary comforts including televisions and running water. One ground-floor flat is vacant and serves as a public museum. The doorbells have intricate forms, each one unique, dating back to before the introduction of lamps when inhabitants could identify their door by feeling the handle in the dark.

The Fugger family made their fortune first via weaving and retailing. Jakob the Rich broadened his activities to include silver mines and trade with Venice. He was also a banker, with the Vatican as a prominent customer. The family became financial supporters of the Habsburgs, and he sponsored Charles V’s successful election as Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 1519.

The Fuggerei is sponsored by a charitable trust created in 1520, which Jakob Fugger paid with a 10,000 guilder initial investment. According to the Wall Street Journal, the trust has been meticulously maintained, with the majority of its income derived from forestry assets, which the Fugger family has preferred since the 17th century after losing money on better-paying investments. The trust’s yearly return has varied from 0.5 percent to 2 percent after inflation. Wolf-Dietrich Graf von Hundt is now in charge of the trust.

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It is still occupied today, giving it the distinction of being the world’s oldest social housing project.

The fee was and still is one Rheinischer Gulden each year (equal to 0.88 euros), and also 3 replicates prayers for the present proprietors of the Fuggerei – the Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary, and the Nicene Creed.

The living circumstances remain the same as they were 496 years ago, making the Fuggerei one of the strangest and craziest human habitations on the planet.

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