The housing crisis in Berlin, a stake in the German legislative elections

Berlin no longer knows where to house its new inhabitants. About 350,000 have moved there over the past ten years. The structural shortage of housing, but also the city’s attractiveness for investors have made rental properties scarce and rents soared in a city where 80% of the population is tenants.

Two weeks before the legislative elections of September 26 as few months ago, a demonstration took place in the German capital to demand a nationwide rent freeze and the construction of new social and affordable housing.

In the procession, a woman explains: “It is important that people have the means to live in Berlin and that they are not excluded.” Another protester adds: “Today, we no longer know who our donor is: any company abroad.” A protester launches: “The cost of living is increasing, but our income is not.”

The rent freeze overturned by the courts

Berlin’s local government attempted to freeze rents for five years last year, a move unheard of in the country. But the German Constitutional Court annulled it in April, affirming that this cap was not compatible with the Constitution because it falls under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

The gap between rich and poor is likely to get even worse according to Rainer Wild of the Berlin Tenants Association of tenants association. “The problem is that housing costs for households with lower than average incomes already represent 50% or more of their income,” he emphasizes.

Large private donors questioned

In Berlin, rents range from 5.30 euros in apartments in the “Plattenbau” (typical building bars of the former GDR) to over 13 euros per square meter in pre-war buildings which have been renovated, as well as in new high-end constructions. Finding a rental leads to fierce competition. In January, there were an average of 214 people interested in an available apartment.

The Berlin Land Department for City Development and Housing has estimated that 200,000 homes would need to be built between 2017 and 2030 to meet needs.

Among the factors fueling this crisis, many point the finger at the sale of thousands of state-owned apartments to private landlords in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“This is a problem that we have been trying to stop for many years, but also to reverse by bringing housing back to the municipal social park,” says Wenke Christoph, Berlin State Secretary for Housing.

Thus, in 2019, the housing agency of the Land of Berlin Gewobag had bought 6,000 apartments which had been social housing from the 60s to the 90s. This acquisition for 920 million euros from the Luxembourg company Ado Properties represented the most vast real estate renationalization operation never undertaken in the German capital.

Berlin referendum

During the legislative elections of September 26, Berliners are called to participate in a controversial referendum on the possible expropriation of more than 240,000 homes belonging to large real estate groups. Its result will not be legally binding, but its supporters hope it will put pressure on political leaders.

In Berlin, however, new housing is well and truly being built. But they are not always well received, especially when it comes to expensive condominiums such as in the Berlin-Tegel area in the north-west of the city, where Heinz-Jürgen Korte lives.

“Obviously, we want to be able to continue living here,” explains this inhabitant mobilized like other residents against the construction of luxury buildings, “This does not mean that we must not build housing, we need it in Berlin. But we want for this land, a project which is beneficial to the inhabitants and which has a social approach,” he insists.

The project was stopped. But the residents remain on their guard. Another company might have the same views on the land in question.

Other major cities affected

Berlin is not the only German city affected by this housing crisis. It is said to be missing about 670,000 apartments nationwide.

This shortage particularly affects large agglomerations such as Stuttgart, Munich, Frankfurt and Cologne.

In the context of the September 26 legislative elections, access to affordable housing will certainly be one of the issues that many voters across the country will have in mind as they go to the polls.

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