A proposal for expropriation of major real estate companies reached a majority yesterday at a referendum in Berlin: 56.4 percent of voters voted in favour of expropriation of companies such as Deutsche Wonen and Vonovia. The outcome of the referendum is not legally binding, but Berlin politics must consider it.
The referendum initiators aim to nationalize some 240,000 homes in the German capital, which are now owned by large companies. The referendum focuses on all private real estate companies with more than 3000 homes. About ten real estate companies would have to sell their properties to the government.
The initiators of the referendum had a delighted vote yesterday. “We got the city moving and shaken politics,” said a spokesman for the initiative at the German radio station RBB Inforadio. “We took on powerful opponents and won. We wont disappear so soon.”
Berlin has been fiercely demonstrated against the high rents and the major housing distress. Earlier this month, there was a major protest and the left-wing city government tried to limit the rents with a rent ceiling. However, that rental ceiling, the Mietendeckel, was soon referred to the trash by the German constitutional court, because it was contrary to national law.
The organizers of the plebiscite say they intensively follow the Berlin formation in the coming period. “Ignoring the referendum would be a political scandal. We wont stop until the socialization of housing companies is implemented,” says a spokesperson.
The Social Democratic SPD and the Greens, the number one and two in Berlin, want to take the results of the referendum seriously, even though the leader of local Social Democrats has been critical of it in the past. She is still critical, but believes that the referendum results should be respected. She wants a draft bill to follow, which can also pass constitution scrutiny.
The Greens are also open to talks about expropriation of the hundreds of thousands of homes. But the candidate of that party, Bettina Jarasch, did point out that politically honestabout the chances of implementing the outcome the referendum. “There are still many legal and practical matters to be settled,” she told news agency DPA.
Alternatively, she advocates a voluntary agreement between politics, landlords and other stakeholders for more new construction and fair rents. “The landlords have this in their hands,” she said.
Real estate companies: this doesnt help
Property group Vonovia says the referendum does not help solve problems in the housing market in Berlin. According to the company, a long-standing standoff threatens. “We need a lot more togetherness rather than confrontation,” the companys top executive Rolf Buch said in a statement.
The company says its willing to build 13,000 houses in Berlin in the coming years. Also, both Vonovia and Deutsche Wohnen want to freeze the rents over the next five years.
meantime, Vonovia is taking over Deutsche Wohnen. The company now owns more than half of its shares in Deutsche Wonen.