What Housing Organizers in the U.S. Can Learn from Berlin's Re-Socialization Campaign

More than half of Berlin voters approved a non-binding referendum to resocialize a quarter-million apartments. What can housing organizers in the U.S. learn?

October 20, 2021, 10:00 AM PDT

By rkaufman

Germany Capital City

Sergey Kohl / Shutterstock

At the end of September, Berliners went to the polls to vote for a new city and federal government. Their ballots included a controversial measure, Deutsche Wohnen Enteignen (Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen), calling for the socialization of the city’s largest landlords, who control about 10 percent (or 240,000 units) of the city’s housing stock. In a non-binding referendum, voters were asked if the city government should purchase the portfolios of landlords who own 3,000 or more apartments in Berlin. While the two most popular parties, the Social Democrats and the Greens, received 21.4 percent and 18.9 percent of the vote, respectively, most voters–56 percent–voted in favor of the referendum. Berliners are in much greater agreement over socialization than what the city’s next government should look like.

From a U.S. perspective, a successful campaign organized around housing socialization may seem like a difficult proposition. However, calls to reclaim grossly inflated real estate for the public good have recently become more prevalent in the United States, because U.S. cities are facing similar market pressures to Berlin’s. And, even though the socialization campaign is rooted in the particularities of German constitutional law and local political conditions, its underlying logic—that local governments should counteract aggressive speculative practices and act as a sort of anti-real estate state — is present in the work of U.S. based housing activists, from Oakland to Minneapolis to New York.

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