As Berlin housing crisis grows, one housing association pushes a dramatic solution

Graffiti with the slogan "Hands off our homes" is displayed at the building wall of an alternative housing project in Berlin, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022. The German capital face an increase in rents in recent years. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
By M B
4 Min Read

The association of Berlin-Brandenburg housing companies (BBU) has proposed a legal limitation on living space for individuals at a time when the city, just like the rest of Europe, is struggling with a continuing housing crisis.

“It is not possible for us to complain about shortages while, at the same time, the living space per capita in many places continues to increase,” said association leader Maren Kern on Wednesday.

What would these proposed restrictions look like? In essence, they would force people who live in bigger spaces to move to smaller spaces or pay an extra tax, at least for those people renting from the various housing companies and cooperatives in the city.

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In this regard, Switzerland has already set the example, which features a large number of space restrictions for the housing cooperatives in the country.

“In a four-room apartment, for example, at least three people must live there. If a child moves out at some point, the parents can move to a smaller apartment, or they must pay an under-occupancy tax,” explained Kern, who advocates for anchoring the proposal in German tenancy law.

Berlin has been a magnet not only for EU citizens, but also for mass migration from non-EU countries, with many of these migrants housed in extremely pricey complexes. This phenomenon, coupled with central bank money printing and negative interest rates, has sent housing and rent prices skyrocketing in the German capital, which is the same story seen across the entire country as well as Europe.

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Berlin has long been known as a city with space, both in terms of green space and low-cost living space. However, the older Berlin population, who benefitted from cheap housing stock and cheap rents, often occupy large houses and apartments, while those younger people looking to form a family are increasingly cramped into small apartments with exorbitantly high rents. As seen in other Western cities like London and New York, many of these young people forego family formation in favor of living in shared apartments with roommates in what many have described as a permanent adolescence. At the same time, those younger people who choose to have families sometimes do not have the space for as many children as they would like.

Older people and wealthier people living in more spacious apartments have little incentive to give up their spaces, and forcing them into smaller spaces would raise serious moral and legal questions, although Germany has evicted seniors in the past with little compunction.

In mid-April, Federal Building Minister Klara Geywitz pushed away from the concept of the single-family house, which some on the far-left have long advocated. She complained that this was “economically and ecologically non-sensical” because there were often not large families living there but two senior citizens. However, the German Green Party wants to ban the construction of single-family homes entirely, even for families.

For now, the BBU’s proposal remains just a proposal, but a growing lack of affordable housing could lead to such proposals becoming law in the future.

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