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The new coalition government in Berlin presented its controversial stance on housing

The new coalition government in Berlin presented its controversial stance on housing

Tempelhof Field in the city centre will remain a park and the socialists will have to find a new place for their 200,000 new apartments

Today, Bettina Jarasch of the Green Party in Berlin announced a new development in the ongoing coalition negotiations between the Greens, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and The Left (Die Linke). The announcement focused on the coalition’s plans on housing – a major issue for the German capital, considering the recent mayoral elections went hand in hand with a referendum to nationalise the biggest landowning companies in the city.

In her statement, Jarasch explained that the Templehof Airfield will remain a park, rather than a redevelopment site for the SPD-Die Linke 200,000 promised residential units. Franziska Giffey (from the SPD) explained that this would not compromise the housing initiative and when the government comes into office, this should be on top of the agenda. 

Furthermore, she also gave some indication that there might be some development in the implementation of the results from the expropriation referendum. She said that the coalition is committed to establishing a commission to determine a legal measure to socialise private property - no easy task.

An important note is that the SPD-Greens-Die Linke (red-green-red) coalition agreement is not finalised yet, so for all intense and purposes talks could ultimately fall through, though there is no indication that that is a likely outcome.

No redevelopment of the Tempelhof Airfield

Bettina Jarasch, the local leader of the Greens announced that the airfield of Tempelhof Airport will not be touched in this legislative period. Tempelhof Airport is a currently unused airport close to the heart of Berlin. The old airport is home to a massive building and two runways.

Tempelhof airport was the site of the famous Berlin Airlift, however, it closed in 2008. The flow of air traffic to and from the city centre gradually became a large source of sound and air pollution. During the refugee crisis in 2015, some of the hangars were converted into temporary housing for around 2,000 people, and the field started functioning as a park and recreation area.

It is important to note that it is quite rare for a city to gain a massive space in the densely packed urban centre, without having to redevelop significant chunks of housing.

At the same time, the fate of the Tempelhof Field was a centrepiece of the SPD-Die Linke pledge to build 200,000 new housing units in the city in the next decade. Importantly, though, despite the setback, the coalition believes that the target will still be achievable.

Acceding to local SPD leader and the most likely new mayor, Franziska Giffey, the first order of business after forming Berlin’s government should be to form a housing alliance. This alliance should then work on implementing the necessary measures and kick off the city’s building streak.

The proposed 200,000 apartments will be a mixture of affordable housing and middle-class housing. Furthermore, they should focus on filling out the existing areas of the city, focusing on low-density areas rather than expanding the urban border.

Expropriating the largest landlords

During the September elections, citizens of the German capital had the chance to vote on a local referendum, calling for the expropriation of the property from landlords with portfolios exceeding 3,000 apartments.

It is important to note that the referendum passed with 56% of the vote in favour of expropriation, while only 39% were against it.

This measure has been provoked by skyrocketing rent prices in Berlin, coupled with the corporate landowning companies and their reportedly predatory practices towards consumers. In the months leading up to the election, both Franziska Giffey and Bettina Jarasch stated that the expropriation of private property was not the way forward for the city.

Additionally, if the legally binding referendum’s decisions were to be implemented, they would be in conflict with Berlin’s constitution.

The red-green-red coalition has promised to create an ombudsman for tenants, as well as an expansion of tenant rights. In regards to the result of the referendum, party leaders have said that they plan to establish a commission of experts in the first 100 days in office.

The commission will work to find a legal way to socialise private housing groups. The commission’s decision will then be given up for a vote in Berlin’s Senate where, if necessary, a new law will be drawn up. Citizen groups that started the initiative for the referendum have criticized this response as a band-aid measure.

Recent real-estate merger

Recently, one of the biggest real-estate firms in the European Union – Vonovia announced its full takeover of one of the biggest real-estate firms in Berlin – Deutsche Wohnen.

Deutsche Wohnen owns 150,000 apartments and retail spaces in Germany and 71% of those are in Berlin. They are also one of the primary targets and reasons behind the September referendum.

As part of the merger plan and in an effort to appease BaFin, Germany’s financial regulator, Vonovia announced a rent cap in the state of Berlin until 2026 and an offer to sell 20,000 apartments to the local government.

While the merger taunts Berlin’s tenant movement, it also offers politicians a non-controversial compromise in the form of 20,000 apartments. This, however, is miles away from what the almost 400,000 units signatories in the petition for the referendum are calling for.

The merger cost Vonovia 8 billion euros and with that Europe’s largest landlord company is born, with a portfolio of 550,000 properties.

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