Unbelievable but true! The Fuggerei is the world’s oldest social housing complex still in use. In this truly magical place, rent hasn’t been raised since the year 1520.
After minting coins for the Vatican and making a name for himself as one of Europe’s greatest early entrepreneurs, Jakob Fugger (aka “Jakob the Rich”) turned his eye toward those in need. What emerged from this vision has persisted as the world’s oldest charitable social housing complex.
It is a walled enclave within the city of Ausburg, Bavaria. It takes it name from the Fugger family and was founded in 1516 by Jakob Fugger the Younger (known as “Jakob Fugger the Rich”) as a place where the needy citizens of Augsburg could be housed.
In the year 1517, construction began on Fugger’s vision for what would become the golden-walled enclave of Fuggerei, which he created as a way of providing affordable homes for day laborers, artisans and their families. Though it sustained heavy damage during a bombing raid in WWII, the community was restored to its pre-raid condition, where it has remained uninterruptedly inhabited since its founding.
The Fuggerei was first built between 1516 and 1523 under the supervision of the architect Thomas Krebs, and in 1582 Hans Holl added St. Mark’s Church to the settlement. Expanded further in 1880 and 1938, The city-within-a-city consists of private residences including 67 houses, 147 apartments, St. Mark’s Church, and an administrative building. . The gates were locked at night, so the Fuggerei was, in its own right, very similar to a small independent medieval town.
In the half-millenia since Fuggerei’s inception, the community has become one of Augsburg’s most popular tourist destinations. For just €4, visitors are given a tour behind the walls, including a glimpse inside one single apartment left intentionally uninhabited for voyeuristic purposes. All this access feels like a bargain price until a simple calculation reveals one’s admission ticket costs more than four times the annual rent of Fuggerei’s residents.
Yes, that’s right: rent here costs just 88 euro cents for an entire year.
There is a catch, of course. Since day one, Fuggerei has been a community exclusively for Augsburg’s Roman Catholic locals. Individuals interested in taking up residence there must prove their faith and have become indigent without any outstanding debt, all while having called the greater Bavarian city home for a minimum of two years prior their application to live within Fuggerei’s walls. Through this selection process, the devout Fugger was able to ensure a constant supply of upstanding citizens proliferated within his beloved church and extended throughout Bavaria at large.
Housing units in the area consist of 45 to 65 square meter (500–700 square foot) apartments, but because each unit has its own street entrance it simulates living in a house. There is no shared accommodation; each family has its own apartment, which includes a kitchen, a parlour, a bedroom and a tiny spare room, altogether totaling about 60 square metres. Ground-floor apartments all have a small garden and garden shed, while upper-floor apartments have an attic. All apartments have modern conveniences such as television and running water. One ground-floor apartment is uninhabited, serving as a museum open to the public. The doorbells have elaborate shapes, each being unique, dating back to before the installation of streetlights when residents could identify their door by feeling the handle in the dark
The Fugger family initially established their wealth in weaving and merchandising. Jakob the Rich expanded their interests into silver mining and trading with Venice. Additionally he was a financier and counted the Vatican as a notable client. The family became financial backers of the Habsburg family and he financed the successful election of Charles. V as Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 1519.
The Fuggerei is supported by a charitable trust established in 1520 which Jakob Fugger funded with an initial deposit of 10,000 guilders. According to the Wall Street Journal, the trust has been carefully managed with most of its income coming from forestry holdings, which the Fugger family favored since the 17th century after losing money on higher yielding investments. The annual return on the trust has ranged from an after-inflation rate of 0.5% to 2%. Currently the trust is administered by Wolf-Dietrich Graf von Hundt.
It is still inhabited today, affording it the status of being the oldest social housing project in the world.
The rent was and is still one Rheinischer Gulden per year (equivalent to 0.88 euros), as well as three daily prayers for the current owners of the Fuggerei — the Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary, and the Nicene Creed.
The conditions to live there remain the same as they were 496 years ago which makes the Fuggerei one of the weirdest and craziest human habitation on earth.