Ja! Berliners vote in favour of expropriating large landlords
"Yes" referendum posters on a Berlin street, photo via twitter
By a large margin of 56.4% in favour and 39% opposed Berliners on Sunday voted "Yes" to the idea of expropriating more than 200,000 rental units from the city's biggest landlords and making them public.
While the referendum is non-binding it sends a clear message that the people of Berlin see that radical solutions to the housing crisis they are facing are needed.
As Jonas Becker, an organizer and spokesperson for the Deutsche Wohnen & Co. Enteignen group that was behind the referendum, told CBC prior to the vote:
More than 80 per cent of Berliners are tenants and the rents have doubled in the last 10 to 15 years. So that is really a very important topic.
We want to really get to the root of the problem, which is from our perspective, that corporate landlords take the rent in order to make profits and are responsible for the increasing rents.
That's why we want to expropriate corporate landlords who have more than 3,000 apartments in the city, in order to lower rents and in order for the apartments to be publicly administered.
The success of the vote opens "the way for the Berlin Senate to devise a law that would allow for expropriation of real estate companies with more than 3,000 housing units. Companies would be reimbursed for the properties at a rate "well below market value," according to the campaign."
Were this law to be passed it would undoubtedly face constitutional challenges. This could be a serious obstacle given that Germany's courts ruled Berlin's rent control laws unconstitutional in April, 2021.
Still, unlike the lame duck "housing plans" of North American "progressive" parties this campaign at least recognizes that any true path forward towards actually affordable housing as a human right in basically any major city will have to involve not just the building of social housing but also the expropriation of privately owned rental housing.