A coalition of housing rights activists and groups has condemned the Berlin State’s slow approach in implementing the mandate of the 2021 referendum on the appropriation of properties of large private corporations in the housing and real estate sector. Last week, the Deutsche Wohnen & Co Enteignen (Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen & Co Initiative, DWE), formed by housing rights activists and groups in Berlin, gave an ultimatum to the Social Democratic Party (SPD)-Greens-Die Linke (The Left) coalition to present a roadmap for the socialization of private real estate properties in the city without delay.
On September 26 last year, alongside the federal and Berlin State elections, citizens of the city took part in a referendum which saw 59.1% votes in favor of expropriating the property of realtors who owned 3,000 or more residential units. These properties were to be placed under public ownership.
The SPD-Green-Die Linke coalition – which retained power in the 2021 State elections – set up an expert commission to look at the feasibility of the move. However, in November this year, the German Constitutional Court annulled the 2021 Berlin State elections after taking note of various irregularities, complaints, and failures in their conduct. Fresh elections to the State Assembly are scheduled on February 12, 2023.
Berliners are agitated at the slow pace of proceedings and the lack of transparency in the expert commission’s functioning. Berlin Mayor Franziska Giffey (from the SPD) and Senator for Urban Development, Construction and Housing Andreas Geisel also faced harsh criticism from housing rights groups and even coalition partners Die Linke and the Greens for delaying the process of charting out a roadmap for the socialization of private real estate properties in the city, allegedly at the behest of the real estate lobby.
Various housing rights activists have also slammed the SPD-Green-Die Linke coalition for allegedly colluding with the pro-private real estate political parties in the opposition, including the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Alternative for Germany (AfD), and the Free Democratic Party (FDP), which tried to suppress the people’s mandate to mitigate the housing crisis.
Most German cities, especially Berlin, are facing an acute housing crisis with soaring rents. According to several reports, rents in the city have increased by 60% since 2011. The housing crisis has been exacerbated by the ongoing cost of living crisis.
Progressive sections in Berlin including leftist political parties like Die Linke and the German Communist Party (DKP), trade unionists, neighborhood collectives, tenants groups including the Berlin Tenants’ Association, youth/student groups, and campaigns like Right2TheCity and Stand Up Berlin have formed coalitions and organized massive mobilizations demanding the State and federal government to tackle the housing crisis. The DWE initiative has also launched several campaigns and petitions calling on the State government to expropriate housing properties of private realtors like Deutsche Wohnen.
Succumbing to popular pressure, the SPD-Green-Die Linke coalition government passed a rent cap bill on January 30, 2020, to freeze rents for five years at June 2019 levels. However, Germany’s Constitutional Court scrapped the law on the grounds that the State government could not impose its own law in the German capital while the federal government has its regulations to control rents.
On December 15, an interim report was published by the expert commission for the implementation of the 2021 referendum, stating that the Berlin State had the constitutional competence to appropriate private real estate properties and that the move was financially feasible.
The DWE stated that “the commission has confirmed what was already clear to more than a million people last year: Berlin can expropriate! The Senate no longer has excuses and can no longer hide behind the commission. Berlin can now write history.”
Housing rights groups and the DWE are now demanding that political parties include their plans to implement the mandate of the 2021 housing referendum, as well as additional measures to mitigate the soaring housing crisis, in their respective agendas before the upcoming elections.
DWE spokesperson Achim Lindemann stated on December 15, “If you don’t expropriate now, you can’t govern Berlin. We expect the Senate [government of Berlin] to present a plan for socialization as soon as possible and to convert the results of the commission into law. If Giffey and Geisel continue to try to block the expropriation, they will collect the receipt on February 12. Because Berlin will vote out the real estate lobby!.”
On December 18, Luca Sfer from the Socialist German Workers Youth (SDAJ) told Peoples Dispatch, “the housing struggle in Berlin is mainly fought by the initiative Deutsche Wohnen Enteignen (DWE); it was the result of years of rising rents. The grassroots organization won a great victory when a referendum on the expropriation of all companies that own 3,000 flats or more succeeded in getting 59% of the popular vote. However, in the period after that success stopped. The reigning coalition of Greens, Social Democrats, and Left party has not implemented a law to really expropriate the property. Instead they formed an ‘experts-commission’ in order to delay the process and stop a law to implement the results of the referendum. This is despite all reigning parties having at least partly supported the referendum in the first place. The DWE tries to force the Senate to speed up the process by organizing popular protests which, however, have not been that big.”
“A few days ago, however, the commission made the decision that expropriation is legal under article 15 of the Grundgesetz [German constitution]. However, the future of the movement for expropriation is still undecided since it’s clear that the government will do everything to stop the implementation,” he added.
On Sunday, December 19, Klaus Ledere from the leadership of Die Linke in Berlin stated that “re-election to the Berlin State Assembly is a rental choice!” On behalf of Die Linke, he assured voters of “relief for tenants through a relief fund and housing allowance that arrives quickly, a new concept for social housing rebuilding, the implementation of the referendum on expropriation and suspension of evacuations during the winter.”
Recently, various housing rights groups including the Berlin Tenants’ Association and coalitions like ‘Heating, Bread and Peace’ have intensified their agitation demanding “lowering of food-fuel prices and rents, increase in wages and nationwide rental cover, and immediate, comprehensive coverage of gas and electricity prices at least at pre-crisis levels.”