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Deutsche Wohnen & Co Enteignen: What can non-Germans do?

Non-Germans can’t vote in Berlin’s September referendum on expropriating big landlords but there’s still plenty they can do


by Ian Clotworthy

Deutsche Wohnen & Co Enteignen (Socialize Deutsche Wohnen & Co, DWE) is a ballot initiative campaign which aims to take the residential property holdings of the largest corporate landlords into democratic public ownership. The strategy for this is to use Berlin’s legal mechanism of a Volksbegehren to call a referendum on the matter by means of gathering large numbers of signatures.


The first round required 20 000 signatures: the DWE proposal proved so popular that the campaign gathered 77 001 of them! This should also be credited to the campaign’s excellent level of grassroots organisation. It consists of both local groups in each neighbourhood, and thematic citywide working groups. The second round will require the collection of 170 000 signatures within four months, beginning on 26th February this year. The local groups will form the backbone of this effort to ensure that DWE's demand makes it onto the ballot in September.

One newly-formed citywide working group, Right2theCity, is focused on reaching out to the non-Germans who make up about a quarter of the population of Berlin. As many of us have experienced in cities around Europe and around the world, housing has been subjected to unprecedented financialisation and levels of speculation. This has made housing into an investment product to squeeze for profit rather than homes for people.


This mass privatisation has caused a dramatically increase in rents since 2008, funnelling ever more of the tenants incomes into the profits of these corporations. We non-citizens often bear the brunt of it in terms of high rents and lack of respect for our rights. But 85% of Berlin’s residents are tenants – there’s power in that, and DWE has found a way to channel it. Whatever your interests, skills, and level of German, you’re welcome to get involved if this all sounds good to you!

Specifically, the goal is to buy back the housing stock that is owned by real-estate companies with over 3000 apartments in Berlin. This would decommodify the housing, ensuring that rents are set at a level that covers only actual costs of maintenance and improvements, not profits. As for administration, it would also give us much more of a say over how the buildings we live in are managed.


As long-time campaign member Thom McGath puts it, “we are not just pushing for public housing; we are creating a renters’ commons of a sort, democratically managed by the people who live in the apartments. It represents a clear break from housing dominated by finance, speculation, and alienation.” Be a part of this success story - write to us at: right2thecity@dwenteignen.de

Even if you don’t have time to personally get involved, you can still help out by donating to our campaign:

Another initiative within DWE, is that of Tech Workers Coalition. A tech working group is forming, aiming to help the campaign with different tech aspects. At the moment, the focus is Data Collection and Analysis but there is room for other topics. If you have basic tech skills, you’re welcome to contact the coalition at dwe@techworkersberlin.com


Ian Clotworthy represents the Right2TheCity group on DWE's coordinating group. The next meeting of Right2TheCity is on Wednesday, 27 January. Contact right2thecity@dwenteignen.de for more information

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