Housing rights coalition asks Berlin government to socialize corporate-owned housing properties

An expert committee constituted to assess the feasibility and legality of implementing the mandate of the 2021 Berlin referendum submitted its final report last month. The report states that the expropriation of properties of real estate firms with 3,000 or more units is legally permissible

July 06, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
6-07 Right to housing - Berlin
Posters from Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen & Co. (Photo: via DWE)

On Wednesday, July 5, the housing rights coalition in Berlin urged the Christian Democratic Union (CDU)-Social Democratic Party (SPD) government to honor the mandate of the 2021 Berlin referendum and introduce legislation to socialize the properties of corporate realtors to solve the escalating housing crisis in the city. 

The previous SPD-Greens-Die Linke government in Berlin had established a commission of legal experts to assess the legality and feasibility of implementing the mandate of the referendum known as Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen & Co. (DWE). On June 28, the committee submitted its final report, which concluded that a draft law on “expropriation” based on the campaign’s ideas was “legally permissible.”

Deutsche Wohnen & Co Enteignen (Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen & Co Initiative) was started in 2018 by housing rights groups and activists in Berlin. The movement called for the expropriation of the properties of 12 private real-estate companies with 3,000 or more units in the city, such as Deutsche Wohnen, Vonovia, and others, through public purchases by the Berlin State government. 

On September 26, 2021, alongside the federal and Berlin State elections, citizens of Berlin 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. However, in November last 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 were held on February 12, 2023, and the CDU emerged at the top and formed a coalition government with the SPD. 

Even though Die Linke, the Greens, leftist sections, and the youth wing of the SPD were in favor of expropriation, the pro-corporate leadership of the SPD was not very keen on implementing the mandate of the referendum. The conservative CDU has been opposing the expropriation from day one of the campaign.

Berliners had earlier expressed their agitation at the slow pace of proceedings and the lack of transparency in the expert commission’s functioning. Now, with the expert committee report coming in favor of the expropriation, activists have decided to pressure the CDU-SPD government to enact legislation to implement the mandate of the referendum.

Germans living in cities are facing an acute housing crisis with soaring rents. The crisis has been exacerbated by the ongoing cost of living crisis. The earlier Red-Red-Green coalition government in Berlin led by the SPD, Greens, and Die Linke had enacted a rent cap law that envisaged rent freezes at June 2019 level for 90% of Berlin’s apartments for five years. The law was opposed by the CDU and the Free Democratic Party (FDP) and was challenged in the constitutional court. In 2021, the court struck down the Berlin rent cap law, courting widespread protests from tenants and housing rights groups in the city.

Berlin’s housing rights coalition noted on July 3 that “While CDU & SPD go on summer break, Vonovia & German housing are already raising rents in over 42,000 Berlin households. ️It is not a law of nature for tenants to pay the dividends of major corporations.”

On June 28, following the publication of the report of the expert committee on expropriation, the Berlin State committee of Die Linke stated, “There are no more excuses. The Berliners have delivered a clear voting result in 2021. The Expert interior commission has cleared the last legal hurdles out of the way. And the Senate has to deliver: On this basis, a law… must now be drafted and implemented.”

Christian Sprenger noted in Unsere Zeit (UZ) that “In fact, this ‘expropriation’ is a repurchase ordered by the Senate, especially of those public real estate holdings that had been sold off by the Berlin Senate between 2007 and 2013.” He also highlighted that the majority of the housing spaces owned by corporate realtors in Berlin were in bad shape and needed extensive renovation.