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500-Year Anniversary of the Fuggerei – the Oldest Social Housing Complex in the World

On this day in 1521, Jakob Fugger “the Rich” (1459-1525) signed the deed of foundation to establish the “Fuggerei,” which is now the oldest existing social housing complex in the world. It is located in AugsburgGermany. The foundation deed specified that the housing complex was to exist “in perpetuity” and to be “further developed.” The philosophy behind it can be summarized as being to “provide assistance, not charity, to people in need so they can help themselves.” There are a total of nine foundations established by the Fugger family in Augsburg that have been in continuous existence since the 16th century. In addition to the Fuggerei, there are medical facilities, an infirmary, and a foundation to contribute to the salvation of the Fugger family, among others. According to an inscription on a tablet displayed at the Fuggerei, the Fugger family established the foundation to “reimburse God the money that he has generously bestowed upon the family.” Furthermore, at the time, establishing a foundation was considered a good Christian deed that would shorten the time spent in purgatory.

Construction of the buildings for the Fuggerei began in 1516. In 1521, the Fuggerei had 52 buildings, which were mostly occupied by families. Today, there are a total of 67 buildings, 142 residences, and a church. A contract concluded between the Fugger family and the city of Augsburg provides that the Fuggerei is tax-exempt as long as the yearly rent does not exceed one Rhenish Guilder (Rheinischer Gulden)—the weekly salary of a tradesman in 1521. One Gulden corresponds to EUR 0.88 (about US$1.03) in today’s money. Current residents still pay the same amount of yearly rent as in 1521.

Fuggerei. May 23, 2004. Photo by Flickr user Allie_Caulfield. Used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Conditions for Residents

In order to be eligible for residence in the Fuggerei, a person has to fulfill the following conditions:

  • Catholic
  • needy individual who seeks to earn an income
  • respectable
  • a citizen of Augsburg

Paupers or beggars are not eligible. A person that has been accepted for residence is required to say three daily prayers for the Fugger family (Lord’s Prayer, Ave Maria, and the Apostles’ Creed). In addition, each resident has to perform certain chores, such as serving as night watchman, sexton, or gardener. Residents who wish to enter the Fuggerei after 10pm must pay the night watchman EUR 0.50 (about US$0.59); the price is increased to EUR 1 (about US$1.17) after midnight.

Financing

The operation and maintenance of the Fuggerei is financed by foundation capital, entrance fees, and donations. In the beginning, interest earned from the foundation capital was used; later proceeds from the estates that the foundations own were used. Since the end of the 18th century, targeted investments in forestry have been the main source of financing. Today, the financing consists of 70% of profits from forestry, 10% from real estate property outside of the Fuggerei, and 20% from entrance fees.

Bust of Jakob Fugger “the Rich”. July 16, 2008. Photo by Flickr user Boris Ott. Used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

500-Year Anniversary Celebrations

On the occasion of the 500-year anniversary of the Fuggerei, several activities will take place. In addition, a Fuggerei Code was adopted that spells out the concept behind it in order to develop the “Fuggerei of the future.” It states that

This place is a curated living space for eternity. In exchange for a minimal monetary compensation, the foundation allows local needy individuals to lead a self-determined life in dignity. The concept of the Fuggerei has set standards since 1521.” [translation by author]

2 Comments

  1. Yasmin
    August 23, 2021 at 1:26 pm

    This was a fascinating read! Thanks for sharing.

    It is a bit concerning that “Paupers or beggars are not eligible”. The very people who could benefit the most. I assume most of the occupants work and earn a decent enough income to more than afford the roughly US$1.03 (annual) rent.

  2. Gary A. Carter
    August 23, 2021 at 3:07 pm

    World housing accredited for the housing certificate.

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