Monday, November 29

Berlin’s vote to take property from large landowners could be a watershed moment | Alexander Vasudevan

WWith coalition talks that could last for months to form Germany’s next government, the reverberations from Sunday’s elections will be felt for quite some time. But one of the most significant developments on the voters’ weekend trip to the polls was a local referendum in Berlin, which strongly backed a campaign to expropriate properties owned by large corporate owners.

More than a million Berliners supported the campaign Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen & Co, which targeted companies with 3,000 or more apartments (Deutsche Wohnen is one of the largest investment trusts in the city). In total, 240,000 properties, or 11% of all apartments in Berlin, would fall under the terms of the initiative, which was supported by a 56.4% majority in the referendum. However, the vote is not legally binding, so it is now up to the city government, which was also elected on September 26, to decide whether to go ahead. And while struggles for housing are nothing new in Berlin, this successful campaign marks a potentially transformative moment, one that could have a major impact on struggles for housing in other cities, and also serve as a model and inspiration for activists in Europe and other places.

The campaign to re-socialize housing in Berlin (Socialization) was launched in 2018, in response to the rapid financialization of housing in a city where 42,000 million euros was spent on large-scale real estate investments between 2007 and 2020, more than London and Paris combined. Smaller homeowners and state-owned social housing have been aggressively attacked by large institutional players for whom housing has become a vehicle for managing global equity funds. For ordinary tenants in Berlin, where at least 80% of the population are tenants, the transformation of the housing market was accompanied by skyrocketing rents, widespread displacement, and the dismantling of local communities and social ties. Many neighborhoods quickly gentrified as low-income residents struggled to find decent and affordable housing.

The real genius of the expropriation referendum campaign was the use of the German basic law to defend their case, as stated in the German constitution of 1949, which states that “property implies obligations” and “its use must also serve the public good.” The constitution allows the socialization of private assets “by means of a law that determines the nature and scope of the compensation.” Many legal experts also agreed that repossessing the home was permissible under the constitution.

The campaign not only initially secured the signatures necessary to trigger a referendum, but also presented more than 350,000 signatures, all while negotiating the many challenges of the pandemic. This was testimony to a remarkable grassroots effort rooted in local neighborhood teams scattered throughout the city’s districts. Working groups were also established that focused on key legal and financial issues and, in recent weeks, the vote itself. After their victory, the campaign was quick to ask the next Berlin Senate to recognize the result and draft a new law to put housing back on social property.

As with the federal government, the form of the new governing coalition in Berlin is still unclear, although local politicians, with the exception of the left-wing Die Linke party, have expressed little interest in resocializing housing. The possible mayor of the city, Franziska Giffey, of the center-left SPD, has already discarded the idea, but the scale of the referendum victory will be hard to ignore and he has indicated that he will respect the result. The campaign has already developed a legislative proposal in an attempt to put more pressure on the Berlin Senate.

Efforts to implement the socialization process will undoubtedly face legal challenges, not to mention the problem of compensation for real estate corporations. Activists insist their model would balance a commitment to fair compensation with Socialization “neutral from a budget point of view”. Some commentators They fear that the city will be forced to buy back properties at current market prices and that a major social housing program could be more profitable. In any case, the activists are well aware that what they have achieved so far must be part of a larger project to revive “socially oriented”Home construction, including support for a number of non-profit real estate policies.

The referendum also represents a potential watershed beyond Berlin. It highlights the role that common tenants and grassroots organizations can play in developing policies for affordable housing while supporting communities that are increasingly at risk of displacement. It can be a catalyst for municipal housing movements in Europe.

Sunday’s results also offer a powerful reminder of the absence of meaningful housing alternatives in the UK despite the tireless (and underestimated) efforts of grassroots organizations across the country. Berlin has shown how community organizing and a committed group of city residents can design and implement a long-term campaign around housing on a scale currently unthinkable in the UK.

Like David Madden and Peter Marcuse Remind usThe current housing crisis, whether in Berlin or here in the UK, cannot be solved with minor political fixes. What is needed are creative, large-scale solutions that address housing insecurity and empower residents to challenge their increasing marginalization and vulnerability. While some may be irritated by the nature (and perhaps radicalism) of the socialization campaign in Berlin, it has also shown us the power of tenant activism and community organizing. As the proponents of the expropriation of Deutsche Wohnen & Co proudly proclaimed: “This is our city, this is our home. “

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