Berlin: If Housing is “Essential,” Expropriating It Could Regulate Rents

A massive, empty superhighway curves off into the distance
highway photo by Scot is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Essential national transportation networks have been built by expropriating the necessary land. Could essential housing use the same methods?

Expropriation of private property is legal in many countries. If the needs of a community are considered paramount, they trump the rights of individuals and corporations. In many western countries, the entire transportation infrastructure has been founded upon this principle, called by terms such as “Eminent Domain” in the U.S., “Compulsory Purchase” in the U.K., etc. Such terms describe a community (usually government) right to seize private land, with compensation as the laws allow.

Could a government declare its own citizens’ housing to be as important to a community as government buildings (which historically may well have been built on expropriated land)? If so, it could seize housing, presumably with compensation to the owners, and put a stop to endless speculative investment that drives up ownership costs and rents.

In the German State (and City) of Berlin, investor-driven housing rents rise ever higher, unmoored from the ability of tenants to pay a reasonable amount of their wages to live in it.

Such is the current activist thinking in the German state of Berlin, where a recent attempt to curb the rise of rents by legislation was declared unconstitutional.

However, if government curbs on the right of an investor to make unfettered profit is indeed unconstitutional, government expropriation of private land, together with what currently rests upon it, is not.

Expropriation was floated as an idea in 20191. In the aftermath of the recent court decision about rent freezes, expropriation is back on the table. Read more at VICE: Berlin’s Renters Are Coming for Mega Landlords

Footnotes

  1. Try: Are Big Landlords Bad For Affordable Renting? Berlin Thinks They Might Be, Berlin Tries Another Way For Governments To Invest In Affordable Housing and Berlin Local Government Tackles City Affordable Housing Crisis

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