In the summer issue of the Brooklyn Rail, philosopher and Berlin resident Jacob Blumenfeld investigates a new tactic proposed by activists fighing to keep Berlin’s housing affordable: expropriation. As Blumenfeld explains, a German law allows for the government to expropriate private property “for the public good” in certain circumstances. The law has never been used in the interest of keeping housing costs low, but Berlin activists are invoking it in their efforts to get the city government to expropriate housing stock from Deutsche Wohnen & Co., which owns thousands of apartments in Berlin. Check out an excerpt from the piece below, or read the full text here.
The campaign to expropriate mega-landlords is a positive development for the city, and it is already scaring off some investors (although not nearly enough). But the results of such a move are unknown. Critics argue that expropriation in itself will not create any new apartments—it will “only” change the ownership title of around 12 percent of housing stock from private to public. In addition, the rents for large landlords are not above average for the rest of the city; the city of Berlin will have to pay out billions of euros to these landlords, money that could otherwise be spent on building new social housing; and there is no guarantee that expropriations will stabilize rents in private or public housing. Against this, however, one can counter that the privatization of social housing did not create any new apartments either, and yet that policy is praised by the same market apologists who denounce expropriation. Those who call for expropriation want to help tenants who are struggling right now, who are threatened with displacement, and need support. And they want to signal to other investors, real estate companies, politicians and landlords that this city is not for sale.
Image via Brooklyn Rail.