THROUGH: Kees. Globalinfo.
The campaign of the Berlin housing activists to stop the attack on their city by speculators and
commercial housing companies has now become widely known. At the beginning of June, members of Bond Precaire Woonvorm visited there to show solidarity and gain knowledge.
Among other things, BPW was in Berlin to participate in the biannual meeting of the European Action Coalition (for the right to Housing and to the City) to which about 30 organizations from all over Europe are affiliated. One of the activities was a solidarity visit to tenants of a flat owned by Deutsche Wohnen, one of the largest private commercial housing companies in Germany. The residents resist unwanted renovation of their homes, which is always followed by rent increases, and eviction in the event of refusal.
Outside the door, BPW and the other organizations from Europe signed a declaration of international solidarity with the struggle in Berlin to loud applause from the tenants. Preparations are currently being made there for a referendum on whether large housing companies should be expropriated. It is expected, according to many surveys to date, that the people of Berlin will agree to this proposal, after which it can actually be ratified.
In order for the referendum to take place, a legally required number of signatures handed in from 20,000 residents of the city. On June 14, the result of the signatures collected all over the city was announced: more than 77,000! This formally submits the request to expropriate housing companies that own more than 3000 homes. Now it is the turn of the parliament of Berlin. That will have four months to introduce legal measures in this area. The referendum would only start if adequate measures were not taken by that time. To request that referendum, at least 170,000 signatures must then be collected and handed over, again in four months. If successful, approximately 613,000 citizens would have to vote in favor in the referendum.
According to the proposal of Deutsche Wohnen & Co Enteignen, the expropriated homes should not subsequently become state property, but should be placed in a public-law institution under the control of the tenants. There is a fierce discussion in the city about the compensation that the expropriated companies will receive (because it will not be taken from them, the companies will be compensated). Many people think that the landlords have already earned enough, and that they have often been offered the homes for far too low prices. The expropriation campaign group has calculated that – unlike the usual ghost stories of opponents of expropriation – it can in any case be carried out 'budget neutrally'.
The possibility of expropriation is explicitly stated in the constitution in Germany (unlike in the Netherlands). An effective referendum is also something that does not exist in the Netherlands (even the advisory variant has already been removed here). Nevertheless, it is of course instructive and inspiring to see how activists in Berlin and other German cities manage to get and keep affordable housing prominent on the agenda for everyone. The secret is, among other things, that active networks have been created, in which residents from all kinds of neighborhoods and from different buildings are actively involved. The network in Berlin has about 280 local residents' organisations. At the same time, there is no shying away from direct actions and large demonstrations. On the International Housing Day of Action in April, in Berlin tens of thousands of people on the street on (and many thousands more elsewhere in Germany and other European cities).
BPW and the other 'foreign' members of the European Action Coalition demonstratively signed the Berlin Declaration. They/we promised to support the struggle as much as possible and to continue it. After all, the big house boys are everywhere with their bats, so that also has the advantage that we can tackle them everywhere. We will of course keep you informed of developments.
The city council of Berlin (which, with the so-called Red-Red-Green coalition, is much more left-wing than that in – just to name a few – Amsterdam) is already taking measures itself to temper the anger about rising housing prices. For example, a measure has now been announced that over the next five years (starting January 2020) rents should not rise, and tenants must check with a public authority whether the rent increase they have received for this is allowed.