April 16, 2021

Neighborhood mutiny against speculation on Karl Marx Avenue | Economy

Neighborhood mutiny against speculation on Karl Marx Avenue | Economy

On the corner of Karl Marx Avenue and the Paris Commune there is a word that repeats itself with insistent frequency: renationalization. This is not 1968, nor the reverie of any totalitarian regime. This is Berlin, the capital of the great European economy, in which hundreds of neighbors struggle against real estate speculation that could end up throwing them out of their homes.

In a café in the basement of this temple of socialist classicism, Norbert Bogedein takes a map with the disputed blocks, marked in different colors and explains the process with thorough notarization. Bogedein is a former retired insurance salesman who now acts as president of the neighborhood association that has put Deutsche Wohnen, a large property company that owns 163,100 homes, in check.

The tenants of some 700 apartments of the iconic Karl-Marx-Allee have proposed to avoid that their apartments go into the hands of the large real estate and rent is skyrocketing. Its pressure has taken effect and the city-state of Berlin has agreed to buy the apartments to avoid new speculative transaction, in a city that suffers as few a vertiginous rise in the price of housing. "We want to maintain the proportion of public housing in order to have an impact on the price of rents. We do not want to be like London, where people with a normal salary can not afford a flat, "explains Matthias Kollatz-Ahnen, regional finance minister of the Berlin Government. The consultant Knight Frank last year placed Berlin as the city where the price of housing had risen the most.

The president of the association of tenants of the Karl Marx Alee in the central avenue of the capital.
The president of the association of tenants of the Karl Marx Alee in the central avenue of the capital. THE COUNTRY

The sale, still suspended in the courts, is the result of an imaginative and convoluted legal operation. The legal battle of a single case like that of the Karl-Marx-Allee, however, involves a political dilemma of great magnitude: how the centers of the big cities are organized and who can afford to live in them. And above all, what role should the authorities play in all this?

Bogedein, the retired activist, says that it was the autumn of last year, when the rumors broke out about the landings of the great avenue that the company that owns it wanted to sell to Deutsche Wohnen. "The tenants quickly realized that this was important, that something had to be done." Anything to prevent their houses from ending up in the hands of a company with a reputation in Berlin to squeeze its tenants.

They launched a massive petition campaign with which they flooded local politicians, so that no one could argue that they did not know anything. They organized work groups – jurist, posters, social networks, relations with politicians, compilers of ideas … -. From the buildings hung large banners against the sale. In each block they managed to recruit between 20 and 30 activists. Of all ages and all political colors, but with a common interest

The tenants and the authorities came to the conclusion that at least two of the blocks could exercise the right of preferential acquisition contemplated by the lease law that in the early nineties regulated the sale of public housing. They took advantage of the text to design a legal pirouette. "With the help of politicians and 50% of the tenants -316 homes-, we decided to buy the apartments and then sell them to a municipal housing company," explains Bogedein.

Kollatz-Ahnen, the finance senator, details that they have taken the transaction to the courts to ratify that the historical right of preferential acquisition was not respected and that it invalidates the purchase of Deutsche Wohnen, now suspended. But it also ensures that in any case, another of the apartment blocks enjoys municipal protection that would allow them to purchase. He also says that this case is special because it is emblematic buildings. They form an impressive row in the old Stalinallee, in the heart of Berlin; a unique example of the Russian architecture of East Berlin.

"We understand that Deutsche Wohnen is a listed company and that it has to offer benefits to its shareholders. But we want them to be affordable housing. We do not want only the rich to live in them, "says Bogedein, 67, a tenant at Karl-Marx-Allee since 1996. He explains that they now pay between 5.6 and 14 euros per square meter for the floors . "Politicians have long been aware in Berlin that the price of the real estate market needs to be stabilized and that it is not enough to build affordable housing," Bogedein thinks. "It is a very important political moment. The big parties lose votes and say they want to listen to the people and we have made enough noise that they can not ignore us, "he adds.

In mid-January, Michael Müller, the mayor of the city-state of Berlin ruled by the Social Democrats, Greens and the Left, confirmed at a press conference that they planned to go ahead with the renationalization plans. "This is a large apartment area that we would like to be owners again." In the Department of Urban Development and Housing in Berlin explain that in the Karl-Marx-Allee, more than 700 apartments were privatized in the nineties. "Berlin sold municipal property to private companies. Now we know it was a mistake, "says a spokeswoman in an email. "That is why Berlin is now trying to expand its housing stock and to recommunize where possible," he adds.

Asked Deutsche Wohnen, the buying company, refers to two releases in which they claim to be open to dialogue with the authorities and in ensuring that they guarantee tenants that they will maintain their conditions. In one of the press releases, however, Michael Zahn, the president of the company, hints at the tensions that the process has unleashed. "It is a pity that the Berlin politicians have not responded to our offer to talk and calm the situation in the Karl-Marx-Allee. The legal action apparently only serves to gain time. "

Meeting of neighbors of the Karl-Marx-Alee in Berlin, last week.
Meeting of neighbors of the Karl-Marx-Alee in Berlin, last week. THE COUNTRY

Reiner Wild, president of the powerful tenants' association in Berlin, with 170,000 members in the city, maintains however that Deutsche Wohnen does not respect the measures against rent increases and is famous for not repairing faults in their apartments. "We have many problems for example with the heating," he says. The big problem in the background, he argues, is that Berlin does not stop attracting people from all over the world, while prices continue to rise. "Many owners do not respect the rent brake – they can not raise more than 10% of the average rent in the area-, but the tenants do not have legal insurance and they are afraid to lose a trial. "

Meanwhile, the tenants of the Karl-Marx-Allee continue to inform themselves and prepare themselves for possible scenarios. On Wednesdays, in the evening, they meet together with the Wild Association, which advises them on the process. More than a hundred people of all ages listened carefully and try to digest the legal tangle they are exposed to, aware that it is a necessary drink to preserve the future of their apartments and partly also, that of their city.

The Berlin magnet

Berlin is a magnet that attracts citizens from all over the world, forcing the authorities to face a demographic that grows in parallel with the interest of private investors. To try to control the process and "have an impact on the price of rents," the city-state has proposed to provide 10,000 new homes a year, according to Matthias Kollatz-Ahnen, regional finance minister of the Berlin Government, who recognizes that in the past they have not been able to achieve that goal.

"The highest priority is a city that is growing is to maintain the proportion of public housing," explains Kollatz-Ahnen. The goal is to build 6,000 new homes and acquire another 4,000 flats, part of which were once municipal property. In that group would enter the case of the Karl-Marx-Allee.


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