Berlin’s complicated victory over public housing

in October 26th, 2021
berlin-referundum-public-housing

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About a month ago, Berlin residents celebrated the passing of a referendum that would allow the government to seize rental properties from corporate landlords for public housing. The vote comes in response to corporate landlords purchasing properties and modernizing them in order to collect higher rent, which ultimately shut out long-time residents of the area — a major concern for a city where 84% of residents are tenants.

Not only has rent doubled over the past decade (while wages hardly rose), but over a third of the city’s public housing has been privatized.

That said, the referendum is non-binding and potentially the costliest path towards affordable housing. The government would purchase the 240,000 rental properties at below market value — but the bill would still reach $35 billion. This amount also doesn’t account for the costly legal challenges real estate corporations are expected to throw in response to any enacted property seizures.

Critics say the money would be better spent on social services or building more housing while advocates argue more housing could be financed by the rental profit generated by the seized properties (after bonds are repaid). The government has already committed to building 200,000 units by 2030, but only half are considered affordable and progress has been slow. Overall, some supporters are still unsure of the difference the referendum would make.

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With a global housing crisis, it’s hard to see what could fix the problem — though Vienna seems to be ahead of the curve. Roughly two-thirds of Viennese residents live in publicly-owned apartments that determine rent based on incomes. Learn more about how they got here.

Resource Center:

  • Quartz (Where we found this story) 1 month old | 7 minutes long
  • Deutsche Welle Concerned Berliners  1 month old | 8 minutes long
  • Bloomberg Berlin’s majority tenant population 1 month old | 5 minutes long
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So house that referendum going?

Art Credit: LG Beard

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