BERLIN (Reuters) – Thousands of residents of Berlin took to the streets on Saturday to stir up anger over rising rents and demand expropriation of more than 200,000 apartments sold to large private landlords for whom they owe the city's character.
A general view shows that people participate in a protest against rising house rentals and a housing shortage in Berlin, Germany, on April 6, 2019. Picture taken with a fish lens. REUTERS / Fabrizio Bensch
Activists have begun to collect signatures for an election proposal that would require the city to take back properties from any landlord who owns more than 3,000 apartments. Polls indicate that such a measure could pass and force the city to consider spending billions of euros on buying back privatized housing.
Demonstrators marched through the city center during a giant model shark. Banners read "against rentals and speculators".
"We've had very bad experiences with these real estate companies for years, and we know they correspond to their shareholders and not to tenants. We don't want them in our city anymore," organizer Rouzbeh Taheri told Reuters TV.
For decades after union in 1990, Berlin became a magnet for artists, musicians and students designed by homes that were far cheaper than in other major European cities. About 85 percent of the Berliners rent their homes rather than owning them.
But with an influx of about 40,000 people a year over the last decade, rents have more than doubled since 2008, according to a survey of online housing portal immowelt.de. The city is no longer a bargain for newcomers, and many of its long-term residents say they are fighting.
Among the properties sold to the private sector, many of the great strange communist honorary projects were built as exhibitions under former East Germany. Many have been acquired in recent years by Deutsche Wohnen, the city's largest landlord with about 115,000 apartments.
Promotions calling their movement "expropriate Deutsche Wohnen" have six months to gather 20,000 signatures and until February to collect another 170,000 to force a referendum. A February survey showed that 44 percent of the Berlin people support renationalisation apartments, while 39 percent oppose it.
Deutsche Wohnen and other landowners say that the expropriation spectrum could exacerbate the problem by discouraging new construction: "Expropriation gives no relief to the drastically tight housing market in the capital," said Michael Zahn, director of Deutsche Wohnen.
Berlin's Senate estimates the cost of buying properties up to 36 billion euros ($ 41 billion). The Social Democrats, who lead the coalition that governs the city, say that such funds would be better used housing than nationalization. Instead, they favor a five-year rental fee.
"I understand anger at property companies who want to squeeze every cent out of tenants. But expropriation takes years and does not create a single occasion," said Social Democrats national leader Andrea Nahles to the newspaper Bild am Sonntag.
Reporting by Caroline Copley and Reuters TV; Editing by Peter Graff