Our Berlin, Our Home, Our Law: The Deutsche Wohnen & Co. Enteignen Campaign is Back

DWE launches campaign for a legally-binding referendum to expropriate the city’s big landlords and socialize housing


by: Maria Cofalka (on behalf of Right to the City & the DWE Campaign)

Maybe you’ve noticed those yellow and purple posters that have started to return to surfaces all around the city. Perhaps you’ve recently seen posts circulating on social media about the Enteignen campaign. But a big question remains: didn’t we already do this?

Indeed, you may recall that back in 2021, the Deutsche Wohnen & Co. Enteignen movement (DWE for short) held a referendum to expropriate the city’s corporate landlords, namely Deutsche Wohnen (which is part of the multinational, Vonovia Group). The referendum won with 59.1% of the votes – an historic, landslide victory of which over a million people voted in favor. (It’s also worth noting that these numbers don’t even account for all the people in Berlin who are not eligible to vote, such as the roughly 20% of adults who hold foreign passports.) 

Despite the widespread popularity of expropriating big landlords, it may come as no surprise that the city’s politicians have been evading its implementation. For one, the Red-Red-Green  coalition governing Berlin at the time of the referendum appointed an expert commission to review the campaign’s proposal to expropriate, pledging to support it if they found it to be constitutional and feasible within the city’s budget. Many regarded this maneuver as a political sleight of hand to delay and ultimately sink the proposal in the trenches of German bureaucracy. 

Last June, however, the commission’s assessment was resoundingly positive in favor of the campaign. Not only did they find expropriating the city’s big landlords to be legally sound, but they actually recommend it as an appropriate measure in addressing the housing crisis here in Berlin.

But that’s not the only obstacle that’s cropped up since the referendum passed. Earlier this year, the city also had a change of administration to the more conservative Groko coalition headed by the first CDU mayor in 20 years. Unlike the previous coalition, party leadership has made no such promises to honor the referendum – despite the expert commission’s endorsement and more importantly, regardless of the will of the people who voted for it. But we aren’t going to back down. 

Why a second referendum? 

The housing crisis has only worsened since 2021. Anyone who lives here is well aware of the perpetual search for a flat – accompanied by lines around the block at apartment viewings, sudden evictions, scams and sketchy landlords – as we bounce every few months from one sublet to another. Not to mention that this year alone, rents in Berlin have risen by 27%, making it the second most expensive city to live in following Munich. Many of these conditions are underpinned by the fact that more than 150,000 flats are owned and managed for a profit by large corporations like Deutsche Wohnen. They are invested in increasing rents as much as possible while cutting costs on building amenities and necessities that make our homes livable.

As the politicians have shown us, we certainly can’t rest on our laurels if we want to see these things improve. This is why the DWE is launching a second, legally-binding referendum to pass a law to expropriate the city’s corporate landlords. Over the next months, the campaign will be working closely in collaboration with lawyers and other legal experts to draft the new legislation.

The law will consist of two parts:

  1. Enteignung: the city will buy back apartments from the large, corporate landlords in Berlin – specifically those who own more than 3000 flats – at a price based on the fair-rent model. In practice, this means that 240,000 flats will be taken back from the big landlords and placed into public ownership.
  2. Vergesellschaftung: refers to the socialization of those apartments, which will mean placing them into the control of the people who live there. 

Why expropriate in the first place?

A recent report by the Rosa Luxemburg foundation found that socializing housing in Berlin will lower rents by 16%. Expropriation will also mitigate the effects of gentrification by keeping housing affordable throughout the city – rather than relegating those who cannot afford rising rents to the city’s outskirts. Most importantly, it will remove our homes as a source of profit for parasitic corporations like Deutsche Wohnen. These are things that other proposed solutions, such as merely building more flats, cannot achieve. 

In fact, over the last 20 years, politicians have already tried to placate us with business-friendly half measures meant to address the situation, but these have also failed to stave off the crisis we are living in now. There was the rent mirror (Mietspiegel), which imposed limits on the price of rent per square meter, but it has been scarcely enforced – as many of us continue to pay rents that are illegally high. There was also legislation meant to create rent protection zones (Milieuschutzgebieten), which has been insufficient in curbing the displacement of locals due to rent spikes. 

It is time for us to go to the root of the issue, rather than accepting the profit motives of these corporate interests as a fact of life. The housing crisis is mounting in cities around the globe; may Berlin set an example for the rest of the world as we fight for our right to shape the city in accordance with the will of the people.

The campaign needs your help

Nearly 60% of the city’s population has already voted in favor of expropriation. The expert commission has reviewed our proposal and agree that it is an appropriate step to take in the midst of a rampant housing crisis. In many ways, we are closer than ever to actualizing these groundbreaking demands. But the fight is not over yet.

Making this happen requires time, energy, and resources. That’s why we’re currently running a crowdfunding campaign to which you can donate to help us make the referendum a reality. The proceeds will go to the law firm drafting the legislation, as well as for the various campaign materials needed at this time.

We also welcome anyone to get involved in the campaign, including foreigners who are often facing some of the most precarious housing situations. That’s why we’ve started Right to the City, the English-speaking working group of the DWE campaign. We hold monthly welcome sessions, weekly co-working, plenary meetings, and much more. Follow us on instagram @r2c.berlin to keep up to date on our current events and actions. Our next welcome session for new people interested is November 13, 19h at Nansenstrasse 2. 

Right to the City and die Linke Internationals are also supporting the crowdfunding effort with a Küfa dinner on Saturday, 14 October at Bilgisaray (Oranienstrasse 45). In addition to delicious, donation-based food, there will be a small entertainment program (details to be announced). Come talk to us there! We are also more than willing to provide more information about our group and the campaign then.